HOME Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo says government is enhancing the Zambia Police Service’s capacity to ensure that people who are in the habit of abusing other citizens through social media are held accountable.

Speaking when he updated Parliament on the security situation in the country for the period between February 20 to June 19, 2020, Wednesday, Kampyongo said some falsehoods being spread on social media were alarming and could be a threat to the peace that the country had enjoyed since Independence.

In his statement earlier, Kampyongo explained that a total of 603 gassing incidences had been recorded countrywide from August 28, 2019, to June 19, 2020, with 476 arrests for riotous behavior, 116 arrests for murder, 49 arrests for gassing, 83 deaths and five false alarms.

“I am pleased to report that there have been no reports of attacks on households living in unfinished buildings/houses. There have been no further incidents recorded since 4th March, 2020. However, the Zambia Police Service recorded criminal incidences that created widespread public insecurity up to 4th March, 2020. The details of the criminal incidents reported between 20th February and 4th March, 2020, are as follows: The Zambia Police Service recorded 570 incidents of spraying offensive and choking chemicals in homes, schools and colleges. These incidents were concentrated in the outlying rural parts of our country, broken down as follows: Copperbelt 369, Lusaka 56, while Muchinga and Western have 37 each. Other incidents were reported in Central (Province) with 19, Luapula 17, Southern 16, Northern 13 and Eastern Province 6,” Kampyongo said.

“During the period under review, North-Western Province did not report any incidents of homes, schools or colleges being sprayed with offensive and choking chemicals. The Zambia Police Service during this period under review arrested 49 suspects for spraying offensive and choking chemicals in homes, schools and colleges. All the suspects are appearing in various courts of law.”

Kampyongo informed the House that spreading false information in some instances also led to riots and innocent persons being targeted by mobs.

“The spreading of false information through social media platforms to some extent declined during the period under review. This can be attributed to the Zambia Police Service having arrested some people, who were using social media platforms to spread falsehoods and incite members of the public to take the law in their own hands. To that end, three people, one female and two males, based on the Copperbelt and Lusaka provinces, respectively, were arrested for the promotion of hatred, violence and public disorder. The three apprehended persons are appearing before the courts of law,” Kampyongo added.

“Mr Speaker, the spreading of false information through social media platforms and word of mouth led to riots, looting and destruction of public and private property. Four provinces, which experienced disorderly during this period are: Lusaka, Eastern, Central, and Luapula provinces. To restore order, the Zambia Police Service arrested a total of 367 persons for disorderly behaviour. 133 of those arrested were in Lusaka, 117 in Central Province and Eastern and Luapula provinces accounted for 65 and 52, respectively.”

Kampyongo also revealed that a total of 68 lives were lost in eight provinces as a result of instant mob justice.

“With regard to incidents of instant mob justice, a total of 68 lives were lost in eight of our provinces broken down as follows: Northern 16, Central 14, Copperbelt 10, Lusaka 8, Eastern 7, Luapula 4 and Southern 3. Mr Speaker, so far, 116 people have been arrested in connection with instant mob justice incidents. The arrests were recorded in Central 35, Muchinga 30, Copperbelt 13, Northern 12 and Southern and Luapula with 10 arrests each. Others were arrested in Western 4, Lusaka and Eastern 1. Those arrested are appearing before the courts of law. Investigations into the deaths of all those who died at the hands of instant mob justice have also continued. It is my sincere hope that the long arm of the law shall in due course bring all those responsible for the deaths of our people through instant mob justice to book,” Kampyongo said.

And responding to a question from Chitambo PF member of parliament Remember Mutale, who wanted to know what government was doing to stop the spread of falsehoods on social media, Kampyongo said the police was being empowered to clamp down on such unscrupulous individuals.

“Yes, Mr Speaker, it is a concern, indeed, that some citizens have taken to social media, which, ideally, is supposed to be a communication tool for our people. But some unscrupulous citizens have taken to social media where, now, they are concocting falsehoods, some falsehoods, which can be alarming and a threat to the peace this country has enjoyed over the years. So, what we have done, we are not sitting back, Mr Speaker, we are capacitating the Zambia Police Service, who are closely working with the Zambia Information Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) in ensuring that the people, who are abusing other citizens using social media, are made to account. And this, I want to assure the people of Zambia, that it is a matter we are not going to relent because citizens, who have suffered at the hands of these unscrupulous characters range from those that are in authority and ordinary citizens,” said Kapyongo.

“So, Mr Speaker, my assurance to the honourable member of parliament for Chitambo and the people of Zambia is that we are going to create an environment where, even a have-not, can still have their freedom protected. So, it’s very important that I make a clarion call to all those who think they will be able to get away with these activities that it’s time they took an introspection and stopped these activities because they will have themselves to blame and this I must make clear. We are also reaching out to the Judiciary so that we can have a platform where when these matters are investigated; they are expedited through the judicial system.”

Kampyongo also revealed that investigations into the death of Frank Mugala, a former pupil at Chazanga Primary school, who was shot by the police during a riot in the area, were still ongoing.