CHIEF government spokesperson Dora Siliya says President Edgar Lungu is not scared to engage in any debate with citizens, but government will not stand by and watch people insult him in the name of freedom of expression.

And Siliya says it is becoming fashionable to “finish” women by calling them prostitutes on social media.

Speaking during a media briefing, Monday, Siliya said the President was happy to take criticism but that it should be palatable.

“As government we want to make it very clear that the right to freedom of expression is captured in the constitution and that right is also guided by other laws including defamation and libel. And obviously, even on a personal level, at a family level, we expect responsibility. It also extends to the right of the press. While the media has the right to publish, they must also publish what is factual, they have to publish within the national laws and that failure to do that, then we see incidences where the police actually charge people with criminal libel. Now as government, in particular, His Excellency Dr Edgar Chagwa Lungu he is not afraid of any argument from anyone as he expends his duties he is very happy to take criticism,” Siliya said.

“The President of the Republic of Zambia is very happy to engage in any debate, in any argument. However, that must be palatable and I think it is unbecoming and we need to begin to question ourselves when young people go on social media and posting insult about the President, we have to begin to ask, is [it] the failure of the family, is it the failure of the education system because you don’t go down the road insulting people. People will say you are mad. So clearly, if you are going to hide behind a computer or on your phone and begin to post insults about the President as we saw over the weekend, a lady in the diaspora, then you need to question what kind of people are these, what has happened. Government is not going to tolerate insulting the President and Zambian citizens.”

Siliya said there was need to differentiate between freedom of expression, freedom of the press and insulting the President.

“Many of us are not afraid of any argument. We can debate the whole day. After all, that is why we are parliamentarians. President Lungu is not scared to debate but the government will not standby and allow people who probably have nothing to offer in their sadness and insult the President and call it freedom of expression. Freedom of expression, freedom of the press government we’ll defend any day but let’s separate that from those who are pedestrian and have nothing better to offer and engage and wish to believe that insulting the President makes them fashionable and that is freedom of expression, freedom of the press,” she said.

“We live in a Zambia with a very specific culture, a very specific political context, a Zambia where we say we are a Christian nation, a Zambia where the global peace index voted us number four in Africa as the most peaceful country. Peace must come with some responsibility, it must come with some sort of behavior. How can we be a country where other people want to believe that we are so peaceful and yet all we want to do is post on the internet, insulting our President, insulting ministers, insulting women? Then there will be total failure as a country.”

And Siliya noted with sadness that it had become fashionable to call women prostitutes on social media.

“The Ministry of Transport and Communication has been working on a number of cyber laws, laws on privacy, laws on financial transactions and laws in security. I do know that a lot of my colleagues, women in the media, female musicians just ordinary citizens are quite abused and they feel that something must be done. The bullying of women just seems to be very easy calling women prostitutes, calling women this, that seems to be a very easy way to sort of finish women in this country. Even a highly educated woman such as Professor Nkandu Luo and it is extremely shameful,” said Siliya.