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It’s not fires, arsonists they are after; it’s your rights and you

Kakoma Kanganja, the Inspector General of Police, says some “publications” will be “limited” during the period of a threatened state of public emergency.
“During this period, police will regulate and prohibit publication and dissemination of matters [that are] pre-judicial to public safety, restriction and control of assemblies, control of movements,” says Kanganja. “You will find [that] we’ll limit some of these publications, social media and the rest where people are abusing, we might end up limiting on those publications.”

 
Wynter Kabimba was right when he said Zambians have seen before how a president who is panicking and losing popularity can abuse Article 31 of the Constitution which declares a threatened state of emergency. Kabimba said the current scenario where the government was using “fires” to justify the declaration of the state of emergency is not new as Frederick Chiluba had used similar ploys to deal with his opponents.

 

 
“In the absence of information, this proclamation is an injustice; this proclamation is an abuse of Article 31. We want the government to tell us…don’t tell us ‘no, somebody told us this is Armageddon and therefore Armageddon has come,’ that’s reasoning like you are in a village; that’s witchcraft reasoning,” said Kabimba.

 

 

Chiluba declared a state of emergency under the zero-option plan of which he himself was an architect…So, this idea of telling us that ‘I am a democrat’; don’t tell us, we shall tell you when you are a democrat. Don’t tell us that you are democrat. Stop singing to the high heavens ‘I am a democrat because I consulted Cabinet’…that’s not what it means. You are addressing your employees [Cabinet ministers]; everybody who is there, you gave them a job and they depend on your job; what do you expect them to say? You are going to Parliament today [Tuesday] which is composed of people that even voted against themselves; they didn’t have grade 12 certificates but they voted for a grade 12 academic qualification and you are saying ‘but this is going to Parliament; this is to show you that I am a democrat’…for God’s sake tell us something else.

 

We were told that this state of emergency was to help them stop the fires and apprehend those behind them. And the case of the losses to our poor marketeers as a result of these fires was passionately put. But now we can see that the fires were just a pretext. This state of emergency is not about the fires and arresting those behind them; it is our fundamental freedoms and rights they seeking to take away.

 

 

What has the news media, responsible or irresponsible, got to do with the fires? How is limiting press freedom going to help them stop the fires and get those behind them arrested? How is curtailing the freedom of assembly and expression going to stop fires and help them arrest the arsonists? If they are today having problems justifying their state of emergency on the basis of stopping fires, closing down news media outlets and curtailing press freedom will make it worse. The police regulating the news media! How? Emergency powers are not meant to be used in this passive way. The use of emergency powers must pass the objective test of what is reasonable in a democratic society.

 

 

 
It shouldn’t be forgotten that we lived under a state of emergency for 27 years and very good jurisprudence was developed. We have many very good precedents dealing with the use or abuse of emergency powers. Dr Kenneth Kaunda’s detention orders issued under emergency powers were, in many cases, successfully challenged in our courts of law. Of course, under Dr Kaunda’s one party state, we had a relatively more independent, efficient, effective and courageous judiciary and judges than is the case today under a multiparty and plural political dispensation. And many fundamental freedoms and rights were respected under Dr Kaunda’s state of emergency. The Garden House meeting that gave birth to the MMD and helped end the one party state was held under a state of emergency. The Post, then The Weekly Post, was launched under a state of emergency and a one  party state. The labour movement flourished and was at its strongest under Dr Kaunda’s state of emergency and one party state. There were strikes, demonstrations and protests under Dr Kaunda’s state of emergency. The MMD, as a movement, was allowed to have meetings and huge rallies under Dr Kaunda’s state of emergency.
If under a one party state, the state of emergency did not take away our fundamental freedoms and rights, why should we accept to have them taken away under a multiparty and plural political dispensation? Clearly, it is not the quenching of fires and arrests of arsonists they are seeking; it is the extinguishing of our fundamental freedoms and rights and the arrests of dissenters they are after.

 
During last year’s election campaigns, Edgar Lungu warned the nation: “If they push me against the wall, I will sacrifice democracy for ‘peace’.” We must never accept the idea that we can choose between our fundamental freedoms and rights and peace, stability or some other considerations. There’s no choice here. This is a false choice. Advancing fundamental freedoms and rights also advances peace, unity and stability. It’s impossible to have meaningful peace without respect for fundamental freedoms and rights. People won’t accept to have their humanity – human rights  – taken away without putting up a fight. Curtailing of fundamental freedoms and rights through a state of emergency, repression, a police state doesn’t result in peace and stability.
We shouldn’t forget that the Patriotic Front has openly extolled the political merits of a one party state and has, in a de facto way, governed this country as such – based on authoritarianism, denial of fundamental freedoms and rights, a police state. Our future lies in defending fundamental freedoms and rights and not in sacrificing them to satisfy some political expediencies of the moment.

 

 
History teaches us the dangers of a government that overreaches: political control taking precedence over fundamental freedoms and rights, police state, mindless bureaucracy – all combining to stifle individual participation and personal freedom. If history teaches anything, it teaches that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. Our mission today should be to defend fundamental freedoms and rights as well as peace and stability. The two are not mutually exclusive.

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