GIVING an update to the nation on the progress government has made in the application of national values and principals, President Edgar Lungu picked on cyber bullying as one of the elements that were hurting his government. The Head of State said, to combat this, Cabinet would introduce a cyber crimes bill this year so that those who abuse social media can be brought to book.

LUNGU: “For those who are in the habit of social media abuse of any kind; change, use your time productively. You cannot be on social media the whole day just criticising the government. If it is imperative, in your opinion to criticise the government, do so, but please, do not insult. No one will hear you with your profanities and falsehoods. And here is news for you ‘social media abusers’; Cabinet is introducing a bill in parliament entitled the cyber security and cybercrimes bill, 2021. This bill aimed at protecting persons from cybercrime will not let you go scot-free if you do not stop abusing innocent people online.”

We wonder if the PF leadership realizes that they have continued creating laws which suit their enjoyment while on top; but laws which will haunt them immediately after they leave power. These people are making their own lives very difficult but no one seems to see this, perhaps because they don’t imagine being out of government and facing the same laws that they are now creating.

When another party takes over government and its state machinery, heads will roll, legs will feeble and stomachs will be running. There will be no laws left for them to rely on in order to plead for public sympathy and natural justice. The PF are mounting a cross to which they will be nailed through a painful crucifixion for their deeds while in government.

We have relentlessly warned this government against enacting laws out of impulse. But they don’t listen. The only way you can manage the people’s voice is by providing a platform for it, not shutting down channels of communication. The reason why citizens have turned to Facebook to air their grievances is because this government has closed the established channels of communication which were there before.

Our opinion is that, President Lungu and his Cabinet are running away from the real problem here. This government has killed Trade Unions, Students unions, civil society pressure groups; but the people want to be heard. This government has silenced the voice of critical media and imposed a very short lifespan on existing ones. They have placed landmines around their corrupt offices so that any media house that moves closer to exposing their criminality dies instantly.

If the PF government is not happy with what citizens write about President Edgar Lungu on Facebook, the easier way out is to tell the Head of State to stop doing what citizens don’t like. The difficult approach is to follow each of the 1,500,000 Facebook users, monitor how they use the Internet, identify those who abuse social media and bring them to book.

Freedom of expression entails that an individual has the right to express any view that he or she wishes, regardless of how offensive to others that view may be. It also entails freedom of the press to express any view, the freedom of authors to write or publish what they wish. Freedom of expression is the backbone of every liberal democracy. It is crucial to the exchange of political ideas and the formation of political opinions. It is also the basis upon which citizens are free to scrutinize the actions of officials that they have democratically elected.

In order for democracy to work, individuals must be allowed to freely disseminate information. This includes information concerning government and public affairs. The free dissemination of information in turn informs political debate and discussion and in turn enables voters to make informed decisions during the electoral process. With the development of smart phones over the last decade or so, social media has certainly become a key source of news.

Of course those in power, including the President may argue that people are abusing this freedom. This is true, but as UNZA Law Lecturer Dr Sangwani Ng’ambi puts it, the answer lies in already existing laws. The laws of Zambia as they are already do enough to regulate freedom of expression. Our laws on Defamation for example, seek to strike a balance between an individual’s reputation on the one hand and the right to freely express oneself, including free press. In addition to this, there are other laws dealing with sedition, criminal defamation, defamation of the President and the spreading of false news. Given this fact, it does not make sense that the government would be looking for more laws to solve the same problems.

But we know what is going on here. What the PF seeks to do with the cyber security bill is to get a blank cheque for intercepting people’s communication. That is what they are looking for. And we will show how they wish to do this in our next opinion.