DR FRED M’membe warns that stifling people’s freedoms of expression and assembly will never lead to peace and stability.

The Socialist Party president appeals, “to our brothers and sisters in government to deeply reflect and meditate on this very dangerous course they are taking”.

“It will certainly not lead to peace and stability in our country,” Dr M’membe warns, in his reflections on Zambia’s multiparty political dispensation.

He says every election and re-election, and every stage of public life, should be seen as an opportunity to return to the original points of reference that inspire justice and law.

Dr M’membe has observed that the Zambian government is taking harsh actions to criminalise peaceful expression and assembly.

“One thing is certain: good politics is at the service of peace. It respects and promotes fundamental human rights, which are at the same time mutual obligations, enabling a bond of trust and gratitude to be forged between present and future generations. Unfortunately, and sadly, together with its virtues, politics also has its share of vices, whether due to personal incompetence or to flaws in the system and its institutions,” he explained yesterday.

“Clearly, these vices detract from the credibility of political life overall, as well as the authority, decisions and actions of those engaged in it.”

Dr M’membe said those vices, which undermine the ideal of an authentic multiparty political dispensation in the country, “bring disgrace to public life and threaten social harmony”.

“And we should think of corruption in its varied forms: the misappropriation of public resources, the exploitation of individuals, the denial of rights, the flouting of community rules, dishonest gain, the justification of power by force or the arbitrary appeal to raison d’état and the refusal to relinquish power,” he said.

Dr M’membe said when the exercise of political power aims only at protecting the interests of those in power to remain in power, “the future is compromised and people can be tempted to lose confidence, since they are relegated to the margins of society without the possibility of helping to build the future”.

“But when politics concretely fosters the freedoms of people and their aspirations, peace grows in their outlook and on their faces. In this spirit, I appeal to our brothers and sisters in government to deeply reflect and meditate on this very dangerous course they are taking. It will certainly not lead to peace and stability in our country,” he said. “Stifling people’s freedoms of expression and assembly will never lead to peace and stability. It is actually a recipe for tension and instability. And they shouldn’t forget that the exercise of power must be a constant practice of self-limitation and modesty.”

Dr M’membe said Zambia’s multiparty political dispensation won’t be sustained “if we can’t guarantee freedom of speech, expression and assembly”.

He noted that the PF government was using the police and ruling party cadres to silence opposition and civil society voices and stop their political mobilisation efforts.

“People are being harassed, beaten and arrested every day for simply trying to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly,” Dr M’membe said. “While some prosecutions, in the end, have been dismissed or abandoned, many people who have engaged in nothing more than peaceful small political meetings have been arrested, held in detention, and subjected to unnecessary legal expenses.”

He said fear of such actions, combined with uncertainty as to how the law will be applied, leads many people to stay away from politics and political gatherings.

“Increasingly, the police are misusing or allow the misuse of the public order Act and COVID-19 restrictions to silence critical voices and stop opposition political mobilisation efforts,” he noted. “While some of magistrates and judges have sometimes protected freedom of expression and assembly, their record is uneven. Some continue to issue poorly reasoned, inconsistent freedom-limiting decisions. This lack of consistency has contributed to an inconsistent terrain of expression and assembly rights and left the door open to continued abuse of the public order Act to harass and intimidate the opposition and others.”

Dr M’membe said the problem in Zambia today was not that the Constitution does not guarantee freedoms expression and assembly, “but that it is easy to silence and stop their exercise because of a combination of overbroad laws, an inefficient criminal justice system, and the aforementioned lack of jurisprudential consistency”.

“This can discourage many people from exercising, and fighting for, their right to freedoms of expression and assembly,” he said. “What is causing those in government to behave in this way? It’s fear of losing power. They want to win next year’s elections at any cost – even at the cost of destroying our multiparty party political dispensation and stifling our freedoms of expression and assembly.”

Dr M’membe recalled Pope Francis warning that thirst for power at any price leads to abuses and injustice.

He further quotes the Pope saying, “Good politics is at the service of peace. Politics is an essential means of building human community and institutions, but when political life is not seen as a form of service to society as a whole, it can become a means of oppression, marginalisation and even destruction. If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. Political office and political responsibility thus constantly challenge those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.”

Dr M’membe said charity and human virtues should be the basis of politics at the service of human rights and peace.

“This is something on which, regardless of our political affiliations, outlooks or persuasions we can all agree, if they wish to work together for the good of our country and our people and to practice those human virtues that sustain all sound political activity: justice, equality, mutual respect, sincerity, honesty, fidelity,” said Dr M’membe.

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