UPND Secretary General Stephen Katuka says his party is shocked that the PF government has arrested opposition leader Sean Tembo for a trumped up charge of Defamation of the President.

In a statement, Saturday, Katuka said Tembo, who is in detention for alleging that President Lungu is mentally sick, must be released immediately.

“This is uncalled for. We demand that Police release President Sean Tembo immediately. The continued violation of human rights by Edgar Lungu’s leadership is appalling. President Lungu should realize that the same measure he is using against those with dissenting views will one day be used against him. From whatever angle this has been done, Lungu is simply confirming that he is not willing to be criticized for the abnormalities witnessed in his leadership,” Katuka stated.

“The whole world is questioning his integrity. We now ask again, why is he doing abnormal things? Is it the people of Zambia who are not okay or President Lungu? If Lungu’s Party found a bag of mealie meal at k38 when they took over power and is now at K120 in some parts of the country , surely people have to question him. If Zambia has the most expensive fuel in the region after Zimbabwe which we know is under sanctions, people have to question him.”

Katuka also asked if President Lungu was “okay”.

“If Civil servants and University Lecturers do not know when they get paid , they have to question Edgar Lungu. Why is he abusing funds buying a jet instead of saving for the nation? Why is he abusing the police against those with dissenting views? If professional police officers are being retired in national interest , surely we have to question. If Mines are retrenching workers and Lungu is not providing solutions ,we have to question. If the Kwacha is losing value against convertible foreign currencies , we have to question Lungu. If the economy is going down and Lungu is the only one seeing it improving , surely we should ask, is he okay? We demand answers and not arbitrary arrests. Release President Sean Tembo immediately,” demanded Katuka.

And in a separate statement, Southern Africa Network Against Corruption (SANAC) executive director Gregory Chifire said the number of people being arrested for defamation of the president was not reflecting well on the country’s democracy.

“The Southern Africa Network Against Corruption (SANAC) notes with regret the arrest of the Patriotic for Economic Progress (PeP) President Mr. Sean Tembo. In the last two years, the country has seen numerous individuals arrested for this offence. In May 2018, Mr.Fresher Siwale, President of the New Labor Party was charged with the offence of defamation of the President after comments he made on Muvi TV. In July 2017, Zambia police arrested a student, Edward Makayi, for criticising the President on Facebook. In January 2018, the Mongu Magistrates Court convicted and sentenced a medical doctor, Dr Kwalela Kafunya, to seven years’ imprisonment for defamation of the President. In October 2018, Dr Austin Mbozi, a lecturer from the University of Zambia was arrested and charged with defamation of the President after he wrote an opinion piece critical of the government,” Chifire stated.

“The record of numerous arrests of citizens over such a short period of time does not sit well with our democratic tenets and goes to reflect the heavy handedness with which the Police has resorted to in clamping down decent.”

He demanded Tembo’s unconditional release.

“As SANAC, we are of the view that this offence is archaic and does not fit in a democracy where a President is elected and as a public officer should be willing to face criticism. Public figures ought to be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. Further, the sanction for defamation of president is so severe as to inhibit freedom of expression. We are asking the authorities to unconditionally release Mr. Tembo and seek more appropriate and modern remedies to criticism. Those in power must endeavor to be tolerant to criticism. Going forward, SANAC submits that offences such as defamation of the president, criminal defamation, sedition and spreading of false news among others must either be expunged from our statutes or conformed to international human rights protocols and standards,” stated Chifire.