AMNESTY International says Hakainde Hichilema’s inauguration as Zambia’s President is an opportunity to turn the tide on the country’s worsening human rights situation.
In a write up to News Diggers! Amnesty Director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said President Hichilema had an opportunity to pull Zambia from the brink.
He urged the newly elected President to adopt a bold and decisive human rights strategy to ensure respect for human rights, including tackling impunity and bringing perpetrators of past violations to justice.
“The inauguration of Hakainde Hichilema must spell the end of a dark era of repression in Zambia. The inauguration of former opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema as Zambia’s new president is an opportunity to turn the tide on the country’s worsening human rights situation. President-elect Hichilema must adopt a bold and decisive human rights strategy to ensure respect for the human rights of all Zambians, including by tackling impunity and bringing perpetrators of past violations to justice. Hakainde Hichilema has an opportunity to pull Zambia back from the brink. Tackling the injustices of the past is a crucial step towards building a better future for the country,” Muchena said.
“We are calling on the new administration to place human rights at the centre of their agenda, including by removing restrictions on the peaceful exercise of human rights, and ensuring accountability for past violations in order to end the culture of impunity. Years of intensifying repression have pushed Zambia to the brink of a human rights crisis- now is the time for a decisive break with the past.”
Muchena said under outgoing President Edgar Lungu’s leadership, Zambia’s human rights record deteriorated sharply.
“Under the outgoing president, Edgar Lungu, Zambia’s human rights record has deteriorated sharply. Opposition leaders and activists have been arrested and detained, prominent media houses have been shut down, and police crackdowns on peaceful protests have led to several deaths. The rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly had come under increasing attack in Zambia, particularly over the past five years, with opposition leaders and activists jailed and at least five people killed by police since 2016,” he said.
Amnesty International noted that under the former Head of State’s rule, his critics were charged with a wide range of offences including criminal defamation.
“Under President’s Lungu’s administration, authorities weaponized the law to criminalize peaceful dissent, charging critics with a wide range of offences including criminal defamation, incitement of public disorder and sedition. For example, on 9 March 2020, police arrested a 15-year-old boy in Kapiri Mposhi, and charged him with three counts of criminal libel after he allegedly criticized President Lungu on Facebook,” Amnesty stated.
“Media outlets came under attack during Lungu’s presidency. In June 2016, one of Zambia’s leading daily newspapers, The Post, was shut down and liquidated over a disputed tax debt. The closure of the newspaper, which was known for its critical investigative work against government, was preceded by state-sanctioned violence against staff, including the beating of the owner of The Post newspaper, Fred M’membe, his wife Mutinta M’membe and the newspaper’s Deputy Managing Editor, Joseph Mwenda.”
Muchena further documented that there was also excessive use of force by the police.
“The crackdown also saw an escalation in excessive use of force by the police, which has been fatal in some cases. On 22 December 2020, police shot dead two unarmed people at a gathering of opposition supporters. Several people had gathered to show their solidarity with Haikainde Hichilema, who is the leader of the United Party for National Development (UPND) when he was summoned for questioning at police headquarters in Lusaka,” stated Muchena.
“State prosecutor Nsama Nsama, who was not part of the gathering, was shot dead while buying a meal at a nearby restaurant, while Joseph Kaunda, a UNPD supporter, was shot by police as they dispersed the crowd. A day earlier, the government had publicly urged police to use ‘any means necessary to maintain law and order’ when dealing with opposition supporters.”