The Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR) has published the following open letter to President Michael Sata, Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba, Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito, and Inspector-General of Police Stella Libongani calling on the ruling party to halt their unlawful harassment and violent persecution of the political opposition.
COALITION FOR THE DEFENCE OF DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
October 22, 2012
Open Letter Addressed to:
President of the Republic of Zambia Michael Chilufya Sata
Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba
Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito
Inspector General of Police Stella Libongani
RE: URGENT DEMAND TO CEASE AND DESIST UNLAWFUL VIOLATIONS OF FREEDOMS OF SPEECH, ASSEMBLY, ASSOCIATION, EQUALITY AND DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS
Dear Sirs and Madam,
We are writing to you regarding our growing concerns over the Zambian government’s illegal harassment and repression of members of the political opposition.
As announced in a recent statement, the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR) represents a broad array of opposition figures and citizens whose rights to freedom of speech, assembly, association, and equality have been violated by the Patriotic Front government.
This unlawful conduct by the government, which includes but is not limited to the violent dispersal of peaceful rallies, arrests of protesters, police blocking meetings of opposition parties, threats of violence and intimidation through manipulation of ethnic tensions, trumped up investigations, censorship of media, and attempts to de-register a party, all contribute to a pattern of unlawful harassment of representing breaches of Zambian law and Zambia’s obligations under international law.
The CDDR is calling upon the President Michael Sata, Minister of Justice Wynter Kabimba, Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito, Inspector General of Police Stella Libongani and other officials of the Patriotic Front government to halt with immediate effect these violations of rights and to uphold their obligations under Zambian and international law.
The rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association are clearly articulated under Articles 11, 20, 21, and 22 of the 1991 Zambian Constitution. The Constitution is unambiguous on these rights, reading under Article 20, “no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to impart and communicate ideas and information without interference, whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons, and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”
The Republic of Zambia is also internationally obliged to uphold these basic civil rights. As a State Party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights , the principal African human rights treaty, Zambia must respect all of its African Charter commitments. Among others, Zambia is obligated to respect the freedoms of its people to express and disseminate opinions (Article 9), their right of free association (Article 10), their right freely to assemble (Article 11), and the right of every citizen “to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with the provisions of the law” (Article 13(1)).
The African Charter further guarantees every Zambian the enjoyment of all these rights and freedoms, without permitting any discrimination on the basis of “political or any other opinion” (Article 2), and guarantees that all Zambians shall be equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of the laws (Article 3).
Zambia is also a State Party to the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which requires Zambia to respect all the same rights and freedoms without discrimination (Articles 2, 14.1, 19, 21, 22 and 25).
There exists a long series of documented incidences in which the Patriotic Front government violated the rights of the opposition, and/or abused powers of the state and police to exercise prejudicial treatment toward these groups based upon their beliefs.
This pattern of abuse of democratic rights of the opposition is exemplified by just two incidences this month:
• October 5, 2012 – Zambian Police in Mongu blocked the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) from holding an indoor meeting of provincial leaders under the pretext of “security concerns.” The meeting was to be chaired by MMD Party Vice President Michael Kaingu, who was recently unlawfully suspended from parliament for two weeks and threatened with the removal of his seat for having criticized a speech by President Michael Sata. Kaingu has broken no law, has not been charged nor tried of any wrongdoing, making this suspension a violation of his rights.
• October 4, 2012 – Zambian police discharged live rounds above a crowd of supporters of opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND). This event followed upon an unlawful blocking of a UPND rally at Kanyama in early September, which was subsequently violently repressed, as well as a tear-gassing of Mr. Hichilema, UPND supporters, and journalists inside the Lusaka Central Police Station on August 9, resulting in a number of injuries.
These events build upon a number of unlawful persecutory actions undertaken by the Patriotic Front government against the opposition, including the opening of false investigations against leaders (including MMD President Nevers Mumba and Mr. Hichilema), flagrant abuse of defamation laws, illegal seizures of property and vehicles used by the parties in campaigns despite an absence of court convictions, threats to censor and shut down online media outlets supportive of the opposition, and attempts to de-register parties.
President Sata, Justice Minister Kabimba, and Director of Public Prosecutions Mutembo Nchito have made a mockery out of the government’s much-touted “anti-corruption” drive, focusing instead on building politically motivated cases against former members of government while ignoring the flagrant corruption among its own ranks. It is a well-known fact that the government has attempted to interfere in the judiciary in order to help DPP Nchito avoid paying a K14 billion debt to a state-owned bank, while Kabimba himself stands accused of several acts of corruption. Meanwhile, an internal power struggle within the ruling party between Mr. Kabimba and the Minister of Defence has revealed serious corruption allegations that have little chance of being prosecuted.
Judging by the more than dozen appointments of family members throughout his cabinet, in addition to the appointment of his campaign manager to head up the lucrative Zambia Roads Agency (ZRA), President Sata has failed to distinguish private good from public good, breaching his responsibilities of office. The constitutional violations committed by this administration are too numerous to recount in full here, but simply consider the number of new ministries created without parliamentary approval, or the appointment of a Speaker of the National Assembly, Patrick Matibini, who was drawn from the judiciary with absolutely no experience in legislative affairs. These violations and appointments are unprecedented in Zambian history.
The CDDR also calls upon the PF government to halt its use of violence and threats of violence against the opposition. Upon his election to office, one of President Sata’s first actions was to order the release from prison of Judge Ngoma, a convicted felon, who was routinely used by the ruling party to physically harass and beat members of the opposition.
Many Zambian citizens remember Sata’s role as President Frederick Chiluba’s Minister without Portfolio from 1996-2001, during which time he was alleged to have organized violent machete-wielding cadres who violently threatened and attacked opponents and voters. Given several recent confrontations of PF cadres at public events, including the funeral of Mama Betty Kaunda, an attitude of brutality continues to prevail among the current leadership. Following several arrests, the Electoral Commission of Zambia has issued a report confirming violent attacks against the MMD by hooligans linked to the ruling party in the lead up to the Mufumbwe bye-elections scheduled for November 9. The constant threat of state-sponsored violence in Mufumbwe against the opposition creates unfair conditions for an election.
This proclivity for threats of violence on behalf of the ruling party was also exhibited in the circulation of two false media articles that sought to manipulate ethnic tensions to their political benefit. One article, published in the government-loyal Post Newspaper on 20 July, a fictitious anonymous source was cited claiming that former President Rupiah Banda was against the interests of the Bemba tribal grouping. Then on 3 September, state-owned ZNBC broadcast a story concerning a letter from an invented terrorist group known as “Tongas Under Oath,” which claimed that the Southern minority ethnic grouping had plans to murder other tribes in Zambia.
Both news stories, revealed as hoaxes, are attributed to have originated from within the ruling party by the vast majority of observers. However Inspector-General of Police Stella Libongani has neglected to order any investigation of who was behind the inflammatory Tongas Under Oath letter. This kind of official use of threats of violence as a political instrument is nothing short of outrageous, and will soon attract the urgent concern of both the donor community as well as foreign investment.
We believe that Zambia deserves better than a government that wilfully breaks the law to deny citizens their right to participate in politics. We believe that Zambia deserves to have a leadership that is accountable before the law and which uphold the country’s international commitments.
The CDDR hereby announces the opening of a comprehensive investigation and documentation of these acts of illegal persecution and violation of democratic rights by the Patriotic Front, which shall be published and distributed to key international bodies. The CDDR is joined by two highly regarded international law experts who will be assisting in the preparation of these filings. This report, which will begin the process of naming those state officials and individual members of the police, welcomes the participation of any and all citizens who feel that their rights to free expression, assembly, association, equality and participation in democracy have been violated by the state, regardless of political, ethnic, or religious persuasion.
As we await your response, the CDDR reminds you of your obligation to serve the needs of the people above all else, your responsibility to conduct yourselves according to the law, and lastly, to eternally uphold the essential democratic value of accountability over impunity.
Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights