ZITUKULE Consortium executive director Nicolas Phiri says the disruption of a public discussion on Bill 10 at Intercontinental Hotel on Monday is just another form being used to close off civic space for citizens.

And Alliance for Community Action executive director Laura Miti says it should not surprise anyone that PF cadres disrupted the Law Association of Zambia organised public discussion on Constitutional Amendment Bill number 10 as thuggery and violence have become the order of the day under the PF government.

Commenting on the disrupted discussion forum by PF cadres on Monday, Phiri said it was just a matter of time before democracy was pronounced dead in Zambia.

“We have said that democracy in Zambia, from the time President Edgar Lungu came into power, went into ICU. It is in the Intensive Care Unit. It is just a matter of time before this democracy is pronounced dead. What we saw at the Intercontinental Hotel is not strange; it is not the first time it has happened in this country. It is the extension of the same intolerance by the state institutions. We have seen how the police have effectively silenced every other voice from having a public platform in this country; ranging from opposition political leaders to church meetings, to civil society activities as long as that activity has any grain of questioning the status quo of the establishment. The police will either, through the Public Order Act, say ‘we are not giving you the leeway to go ahead with the meeting because we don’t have enough man power’ or they will come up with any other silly excuse as to why they cannot allow the public gathering,” Phiri said.

“We have seen how even the media have been victimized at the hands of certain institutions, including the IBA. So what you saw at the Intercontinental Hotel is not any different; it is just a different form of closing civic space. It is an extension of what has been happening because all these things I have recounted are backed by law contained in the Bill of Rights in the Zambian Constitution…All these things have been broken with impunity. Just here in Chilubi, look at what happened in Chilubi! So what we saw at the Intercontinental Hotel is not a new development in the country, it is the continuation of the mutilation of our democracy. Our democracy is in the Intensive Care Unit.”

He said Zambians must stand up and demand the preservation of democracy in the country.

“…It will take citizens to stand up and say no. The Intercontinental incident happened after honourable Tutwa Ngulube was captured live on TV telling the nation that he knows the people behind that [gassing]; we are waiting to see if the police are going to summon Tutwa Ngulube to help them with the names. The question is: how come PF officials seem to know about the people behind criminal activities before the criminal activities happen? They never report! There is no democracy to talk about. If Zambians are interested in saving this democracy, they must put off their political lenses; don’t look at issues because you belong to the PF, because you belong to the NDC; look at issues because you only have one Zambia,” Phiri said.

He further said the failure by the police to summon PF national mobilization vice chairperson Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba for claiming to have information on the gassing incidents was a sign that the police were under state capture.

“I laugh at times when I hear that ‘we are calling on the police to exercise tolerance’. Which police are you calling on because this police…[is] under state capture? It is the PF police! This is the PF police, it is no longer a Republican police. Just yesterday, they arrested a 17-year-old girl for spreading false alarm on the issue of gassing. That is okay, it is a criminal offence but the day before yesterday, GBM who is the vice-chairperson for mobilization for the PF, said that he had information. In fact, he said he had information on gassing for a long time. Now in the Laws of Zambia, anybody who suspects that crime is going to be committed or has knowledge of a certain kind of crime, they are required by law to go and report, failure to which, you become an abettor to that crime for concealing activities that you are fully aware about. Has GBM been summoned by the police to help with the situation? No! The young girl arrested; GBM is still scot free. The state institutions are under state capture and as long as institutions of the state are under state capture, there is no democracy to talk about because when state institutions are captured by a political party or a political clique, they dance to the tune of the political clique and not to public interests,” said Phiri.

And Miti, in an interview, said since the PF’s ascension to power, the party had instituted systematic thuggery and violence as a political strategy.

“The fact that political party thugs, generally believed to be PF, could disrupt the LAZ debate on Bill 10 at the Intercontinental Hotel should not really surprise anyone. Since the PF came to power, they have instituted systematic thuggery and violence as a political strategy. The President has stubbornly refused to use his inordinate power to end the violence despite endless demands from citizens…” Miti said.

“You see, those thugs we saw in the hotel do not buy their alcohol and drugs to attain the crazed levels required to beat up people you have no personal grievance against. They do not pay for their own transport. To strut into such an exclusive venue at which citizens are having an intellectual debate hosted by the Law Association, the thugs have to know they are safe from consequences. They have no fear whatsoever of arrest. That can only happen if their activity has been arranged with those who should enforce the law, having firm instructions to lay off. As we saw at the hotel, the police service has been entirely dis-empowered. The nation watched as police officers were clearly too frightened to approach the thugs who themselves had no regard that there were armed officers in the venue.”

She said the PF was convinced that they couldn’t win an election without violence.

“It is quite clear that the ruling party is convinced it cannot win an election without violence. I guess it all now comes down to citizens. Are Zambians going to allow this hunger for power to destroy their lovely country? I guess we have to wait and see,” said Miti.

“We also have to see if Parliamentarians and Zambians generally will allow brutes to force them to passing of an indefensible Bill 10. When thugs have to disrupt citizens trying to discuss the content of a Bill that intends to fundamentally change the way their country is run, all observers must know that like much else in this era – this Bill is not in the interest of the public.”