[By Poniso Kawanga – LLB, LLM, LLD Student]

Freedom of expression is the foundation stone of democracy and underpins good governance, public accountability and respect for all human rights.

It must sink in the minds of PF and its supporters and in particular the Lusaka Province minister Bowman Lusambo that everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kind through any medium and regardless of frontiers. The PF government must know that free speech and expression is the lifeblood of democracy. It facilitates “open debate, the proper consideration of diverse interests and perspectives, and the negotiation and compromise necessary for consensual policy decisions; therefore, efforts to suppress nonviolent expression, far from ensuring peace and stability”, can allow unseen problems to aggravate and explode in far more dangerous forms.

Article 20 of the Zambian Constitution and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of 1966 to which Zambia is a party, has similar terms on freedom of expression. The two articles protect citizens’ rights to hold their own opinions and to express them freely without government interference. This includes the right to express their views aloud (for example through public protests and demonstrations) or through:
i. Published articles, books or leaflets
ii. Television or radio broadcasting
iii. Works of art
iv. The internet and social media.

Are there any restrictions to this right? Yes, I do agree and realise that although we, the citizens, have freedom of expression, we also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights. And in this regard the government or public authorities may restrict this right if they can show that their action is lawful, necessary and proportionate in order to:
i. protect national security, territorial integrity (the borders of the state) or public safety
ii. prevent disorder or crime
iii. protect health or morals
iv. protect the rights and reputations of other people
v. prevent the disclosure of information received in confidence
vi. maintain the authority and impartiality of judges.

Dear countrymen and women, inasmuch as the authority may be allowed to restrict your freedom of expression if, for example, you express views that encourage racial or religious hatred or indeed any other form of restrictions, the relevant public authority must show that the restriction is ‘proportionate’. In other words, that it is appropriate and no more than necessary to address the issue concerned. Further the government or public authority, and in this case Lusambo, should show that when such freedom is exercised it may cause harm to the public interest or the rights of others.

From the foregoing, it is clear that being a duty bearer and a public official, Hon. Lusambo’s actions amount to gross human rights violation and abuse of his office, and therefore, he doesn’t deserve to hold the public office he is currently occupying now. In view of this, my appeal to the PF government and its public official, Hon. Lusambo, is that let him allow citizens freedom to criticise his government and the President, His Excellence Edgar Chagwa Lungu and other government institutions without fear or threats of prosecution or undisclosed repercussions because this is a vital feature of a democratic society.

Contrary to this, then the PF government is telling the Zambian people that it is dictatorial in its formation and practice. I urge all the Zambian people to stand up, defend and protect the Constitution of Zambia from being mutilated by these overzealous and power-hungry leaders who have nothing to offer to the people, except empty threats. We know very well that they are feeling the heat of the people’s reaction due to their mismanagement of this country’s natural resources.

As citizens, we demand accountability and transparency in the way decisions are made such as favouring foreign companies to mine our natural resources at the expense of Zambians. This government must know that it is not a crime but a constitutional right when citizens demand accountability and transparency from them because they owe a duty to the Zambian people who put them into office, and not those foreign entities who are here just to amass our God-given wealth.

Zambia is our county and, therefore, we are all ke y and equal stakeholders./EC/SM


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