We’re living in a police state

Dr Inonge Mbikusita Lewanika and Vernon Mwaanga feel democracy is retreating in Zambia.

They are right; we are moving backwards in very long strides.

And Dr Rodger Chongwe believes there can be no enhancement of Zambia’s democracy by the use of police and the so-called party cadres to break-up opposition gatherings.

He is equally right; there cannot be democracy in a police state. And we are today living in a police state.

“Is democracy retreating? My conclusion is, that is my opinion, yes it is retreating. Yes, it has been retreating from the very beginning but we watched it retreat, we kept quiet as it was retreating and the majority of us are to blame. We looked the other way, we cheered and danced when some of the undemocratic tendencies were happening,” says Dr Lewanika.

Dr Chongwe says, “We must allow public gatherings that demonstrate support of opposition leaders who should be given a fair role to air their policies, just as I must be permitted as a mere individual to be heard by those who wish to hear me.”

And Vernon Mwaanga recalls that after the public order Act was amended in 1996 to remove any reference to permits and replace it with only notification of the police…“I still hear senior police officers saying ‘we didn’t give them a permit to hold this meeting’”.

“There was no word ‘permit’ in the new public order Act. When our first president after the Third Republic, Frederick Chiluba, attempted to go for a third term, we had nationwide demonstrations in this country opposing the third term. No one was arrested! [But] what is the situation today? So, questions have been asked; is our democracy still healthy, alive, vibrant. My answer is no! I fear that we have taken a few steps backs. Are human rights being respected today? I don’t know what has happened to this generation of young leaders. There is a preoccupation with people to preserve jobs,” laments Mwaanga. “Even the colonialists when they had the public order Act, they rarely used it. It was much easier to get permission from the colonialists than it is today. Can you say that we are more democratic now than we were then?”

Linda Kasonde says it would be difficult for Zambians to participate meaningfully in the governance of the country and to reclaim their rights.

The truth is we’re now living in a police state. And these are some of the consequences of living in a police state.

But what is a police state and how does it look like?

A police state is a government that exercises power arbitrarily through force of the police. Political control may be exerted by means of a partisan police force that operates outside the boundaries normally imposed by a constitutional state to supervise the citizens’ activities.

The inhabitants of a police state may experience restrictions on their mobility or on their freedom to express or communicate political or other views, which are subject to police monitoring or enforcement.

And we shouldn’t forget that Nazi Germany emerged from an originally democratic government, yet gradually exerted more and more repressive controls over its people in the lead-up to World War II. In addition to the SS and the Gestapo, the Nazi police state used the judiciary to assert control over the population from the 1930s until the end of the war in 1945.

The term “police state” is a little tricky, but it generally suggests a system of repressive government control where law is derived from executive power, with widespread state surveillance and suppression of free speech.

A police state is a state with authority which uses the police to maintain and enforce political power even through violent or arbitrary means if necessary. A police state typically exhibits elements of totalitarianism or other harsh means of social control. In a police state the police are not subject to the rule of law and there is no meaningful distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the executive.

Police states do not often refer to themselves in this manner, as the classification is often established by an external critic. The use of term is motivated as a response to the laws, policies and actions of that regime, and is often used pejoratively to describe the regime’s concept of the social contract, human rights, and similar matters.

Police states tend to be very strict in authority, often dictatorships.

The best-known literary treatment of the police state is George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which describes Britain under a totalitarian régime that continuously invokes (and feeds) a perpetual war as a pretext for subjecting the people to mass surveillance, policing, and modification of language and the way people think in order to make dissent not only swiftly punished, but also grammatically and logically impossible to conceive and express. The state destroys not only the literal freedom after action and thought meant by expressions like “freedom of thought”, but also literal freedom of thought.

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