When will abuse of public order Act end?

Chishimba Kambwili is complaining about the cancellation of his campaign rally in Kitwe on grounds that Edgar Lungu was in the district.

“I want to appeal to our President Edgar Lungu that he should start behaving like a President. If we have chosen to be a democracy, democratic tenets must be respected. It’s very disturbing and annoying [that] while we have a by-election in Kitwe, the President decides to travel there and consequently police cancel all campaign programmes for the opposition under the guise that the President is in the district,” complains Kambwili.

“First and foremost, President Lungu must know that there is a timetable for all the opposition, including the ruling party, to have their meetings and our meeting was supposed to be yesterday but he decides to come into Kitwe and directed the police to cancel our rally which was scheduled and well-advertised. This is against the principles of democracy. The President has got three guesthouses on the Copperbelt: he has got the Bank of Zambia Guest House, which is designated as a Presidential Guest House, there is Kabelenga Guest House in Ndola and then there is a guest house in Kitwe and knowing that there are elections, we expected that the President should have camped in Ndola so that the elections programme for all stakeholders is not disturbed but he decides to come into Kitwe and cause a cancellation of our campaign programmes. We expect the President to lead by example, what happened yesterday is unfortunate. Even today, as we speak, we have been told not to go ahead with the campaigns, even tomorrow that the President is in town…No, this is unacceptable.”

Why should political rallies be cancelled simply because the President is in the district? He resides in Lusaka district but political rallies are held here while he is around.

These cancellations of opposition rallies are nothing but an abuse of the public order Act and police powers.

There’s no doubt that the police have been administering the public  order Act unequally and unfairly. They been abusing the public order Act  to advance the political interests of those in power.

The enjoyment of such a very important right  – a fundamental human right – should not be administered in this arbitrary manner. It should never be left to the whims, the discretion of a police officer,  a minister of home affairs.

Striking down the offending sections of the public order Act in the Christine Mulundika case in 1996, Chief Justice Matthew Ngulube stated: “The broader question arising in this appeal is whether in this day and age, with only four years to go to the end of the twentieth century, it is justifiable in a democracy that the citizens of this country can only assemble and speak in public with prior permission which permission is not guaranteed and whether the law under attack is consistent with guaranteed freedom of assembly and speech?…The fact or possibility that permission to assemble and to speak may be refused- so that the constitutional freedoms are denied altogether- on improper or arbitrary grounds or even on unknown grounds, renders the subsection objectionable for a variety of reasons.”

What has changed 19 years after the close of the twentieth century?

As far as members of the ruling party are concerned, the public order Act is not a hindrance. They are not subjected to it. They don’t have to seek a permit. They just assemble, protest or demonstrate anytime, at any place, anywhere. The police can’t stop them.

Where and when will this abuse of the public order Act end?

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