THE Human Rights Commission (HRC) says public gathering restrictions for whatever reason must be fairly applied to all political parties.

In a statement, Sunday, HRC spokesperson Mwelwa Muleya observed that some opposition political parties were being blocked by police from freely campaigning in certain parts of the country.

“Everyone has an obligation and responsibility to maintain law and order and to respect human rights in order to create a conducive environment for free expression of the will of the electorate to vote for candidates of their choice. One of the ways of maintaining law and order is for political parties to adhere to the campaign schedules which they committed themselves to through a consultative process by their respective District Conflict Management Committees (DCMCs) under the auspices of the Electoral Commission of Zambia aimed at preventing inter-party clashes and violence,” he stated.

“Another way is to stop the continued escalating discriminatory enforcement of the Public Order Act (POA) and the COVID 19 Guidelines to the detriment of the rights of opposition candidates. The Commission is issuing this advisory statement against the background of continued incidences of opposition political parties and their candidates being stopped by the Zambia Police Service from interacting with the electorate in some parts of the country while the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) and its candidates is freely campaigning.”

Muleya stated that the growing pattern of opposition parties and candidates being deprived of an opportunity to campaign on the same basis with PF had potential to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.

“For instance, the United Party for National Development (UPND) president, Mr. Hakainde Hichilema, was literally ‘detained’ by police for almost two hours at Chapala Airport run way on 30th July 2021 in Eastern Province in an attempt to block him from accessing the electorate. He was also temporarily blocked from entering Mpika, Isoka, Nakonde and Mbala Districts in Muchinga and Northern Provinces on 3rd August 2021,” he stated.

He further called for compliance with the international and regional human rights law and the provisions of the Constitution of Zambia prohibiting any form of discrimination.

“Holding of free and fair elections is a fundamental human right to participate in one’s government and Zambia being a member of the United Nations (UN) and the AU must take all the necessary measures to ensure that the free will of the electorate to vote for candidates of their choice is upheld in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments and national laws. International human rights law provides, inter alia, that restrictions or derogations to the enjoyment of a human right must serve a legitimate purpose, must not undermine the essential content of the right and must be non-discriminatory,” said Muleya.

“Therefore, if the legitimate purpose of restricting public gatherings is to prevent the spread of COVID 19, the restriction should apply across all political parties and candidates on the same basis. On the other hand, if the purpose is to maintain law and order, the restrictions should be non-discriminatory and must not be detrimental to the rights of other parties candidates while the ruling party and its candidates have heightened political campaigns without any restriction. One of the benchmarks of a free and fair election is unfettered competition among contesting political parties and candidates, which is regrettably being suppressed during the election campaign period.”