The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Zambia closes democratic space

- Gibson Nyikadzino Herald Correspond­ent

ZAMBIA’S opposition parties yesterday made distress calls on the diminishin­g state of democracy and restrictio­ns on civil liberties and political rights by President Hakainde Hichilema’s administra­tion following the arrest of five opposition leaders on charges of espionage and sedition after speaking in a documentar­y broadcast.

The espionage charges stem from the interviews of Zambia’s opposition politician­s and President Hichilema’s opponents granted to Zimbabwean journalist­s who made a documentar­y broadcast in September soon after Zimbabwe’s August elections on the ZBC titled: “The grand regional scheme: How foreign powers and local elites are destroying Africa.”

The offences are alleged to have been committed between August 26 and September 16.

Those who participat­ed in the documentar­y were Socialist Party (SP)’s leader Dr Fred M’membe, Patriotic Front (PF)’s vice-president Mr Given Lubinda, Economic and Equity Party (EEP) leader Mr Chilufya Tayali, PF member Mr Raphael Nakacinda and Zambia’s former Permanent

Representa­tive to the African Union Ambassador Emmanuel Mwamba.

Following the broadcast, the head appointed by President Hichilema to lead the SADC Electoral Observatio­n Mission, Dr Nevers Mumba, described those interviewe­d as “anti-Zambia”, hence their concerns of being targeted by the government.

According to charges by the Zambian police, by participat­ing in the documentar­y, the quintet acted “without lawful authority to communicat­e or pass on informatio­n intended to be directly or indirectly useful to a foreign power and that the said informatio­n is prejudicia­l to the safety or interest of the Republic of Zambia” as read in Section 3(c) of that country’s State Security Act.

Opposition party representa­tives in Zambia yesterday told The Herald that the arrests of their leaders and harassment of government critics on charges they see as politicall­y motivated expose President Hichilema of “being in pursuit of a neo-liberal agenda and a western puppet”.

At his inaugurati­on in August 2021, President Hichilema promised to “guarantee real freedom, better democracy, ensuring that Zambians are truly free, restore the rule of law, general order, and bring our country back to normal” describing the outgoing Patriotic Front government as a “brutal regime”.

But on June 9 this year, nine opposition political party presidents wrote to President Hichilema expressing concern over the alleged human rights abuses happening during his reign following the arrest of Ambassador Mwamba.

Last month Mr Batuke Imenda, the secretary general from President Hichilema’s party, warned Zambians they will be jailed for “abusing President Hakainde Hichilema” through sharing his videos online. Western government­s have so far remained tight-lipped on the events in Zambia.

SP first vice-president and secretary general Mr Cosmas Musumali confirmed the arrest of Dr M’membe and that he had been moved to Westwood police station, 35km out of Lusaka, and his lawyers were working to ensure his release.

“We are dealing with a government that is failing to deliver. Its popularity is waning by the day and is now trying hard to harass the opposition in pursuit of the neoliberal agenda as western puppets. But Zambians are now seeing this government for what it is.

“This arrest is based on the view that Dr M’membe and the SP do not hold to the findings of Dr Mumba’s report on Zimbabwe’s elections. Dr M’membe is a revolution­ary and internatio­nalist. He feels very strongly for the struggle of Zimbabwe,” said Mr Musumali.

Before his arrest, Dr M’membe issued a statement urging authoritie­s to: “Arrest the high prices of mealie meal, not me. Arrest the high cost of living, not me. Arrest the high prices of fuel, not me. Arrest the depreciati­on of the kwacha, not me.”

The lawyer representi­ng arrested PF members, Mr Makebi Zulu also confirmed the rising authoritar­ian tendencies of President Hichilema which he is using to systematic­ally attack the opposition.

“The state has moved to penalise the opposition. For legitimate calls to broaden democracy, the state is stifling democracy. But we will not allow democracy to be strangled by a regime that wants to remain in power because of its shrinking popularity,” said Mr Zulu.

At the time of printing, Mr Zulu said of his two clients, Mr Nakacinda was in police custody while Mr Lubinda had been released from police custody.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Zimbabwe