A CROSS section of civil society organisations has noted with great alarm the contents and tenor of the statement issued by the Minister of Information and Media Chushi Kasanda, on September16.
The Civil society organisations noted that Kasanda’s theme of the statement was the exercise of the “newly found” freedom of expression by members of the public.
The organisations recalled that Kasanda went to great lengths to warn citizens of the dangers of exercising this right in a manner that would harm other citizens.
“The Honourable Minister gave specific examples of comments and statements that allegedly ‘injured’ unnamed people. The freedom of expression is a central tenet of democracy and good governance. It is a constitutionally guaranteed right that all Zambians enjoy subject only to the limitations stated in the Constitution. In years past, the right has been eroded through prosecutions and arbitrary arrests of ordinary citizens by those in power and the marginalisation of dissenting voices in the governance of the country,” stated the CSOs.
The Civil Society Organisations stated the immediate past administration [PF] was characterised by the misuse of state institutions and wastage of resources in prosecuting offences that are unconstitutional in nature such as criminal defamation.
The CSOs said it was therefore disheartening and worrying to hear government make thinly veiled threats to limit the freedom of expression so early into the new administration.
“The statement by the Honourable minister, who was speaking on behalf of the government, strayed far from the stated policy directions of this ‘new dawn’ administration that purport to guarantee the enjoyment of human rights and the rule of law for all Zambians. We also wish to highlight the seemingly blurred lines between the government and the ruling political party which are in fact not synonymous. Party interests and views, including dissent with views of other parties, cannot be the concern of public officers who are charged with
governance. In the same vein, party members ought not to perform functions reserved for holders of public office unless they hold such offices. We therefore urge the current administration to desist from cultivating tendencies that undermine our democracy.”
The CSOs, namely, Chapter One Foundation, ActionAid Zambia, Alliance for Community Action, Caritas Zambia, Centre for Trade Policy and Development, GEARS Initiative Zambia, Peoples’ Action for Accountability and Good Governance in Zambia, Transparency International and Zambia Council for Social Development have therefore reminded the current administration that persons who take up public office must not only tolerate criticism from the electorate, but they must also expect it.
They said the criticism, both constructive and misguided, were an almost guaranteed reality and a by-product of freedom of opinion, thought and expression.
“The change in citizens’ enjoyment of their fundamental rights that was professed after the last election must now be fully realised for everyone without exception. We urge members of the public to fully exercise their rights and freedoms, which have always been guaranteed by the Constitution. Zambians should offer constructive criticism of the leaders who they voted into various offices and to speak out against any attempts to unlawfully limit the exercise of constitutionally guaranteed rights without fear or favour,” stated the CSOs.
The various CSOs requested Kasanda to begin the process of implementing policies such as passing the Access to Information Act that Zambians have long awaited.