GEARS Initiative Zambia says it hopes that the new COVID-19 measures announced by the joint ministerial committee will not stifle democratic space and lead to violation of citizens’ rights and freedoms especially during their enforcement and application.
Executive director McDonald Chipenzi said of the many measures announced, there was a possibility of infringing on citizens’ rights of association, expression, assembly, movement and religion and conscience.
“The media/press freedoms are already being threatened by the measure that requires journalists to access government news sources only upon production of vaccination certificates. Access to diversity of information sources is likely to be undermined as journalists will have difficulties to access such information and feeding the public with limited information,” he said.
Chipenzi said this would also lead to public officers and government officials shunning journalists from accessing them and in some instances harassing them consequently making it difficult for the public to know what was happening in government corridors.
He said the new impetus on the fight against corruption may be eroded with restricted access to journalists and public to access public spaces, corridors and offices.
“Therefore, GEARS Initiative’s concern on such measures is that without drawing a proper balance between citizens’ freedom and rights and public health, measures may be injurious to the democratic gains so far scored,” Chipenzi said.
“In the past here in Zambia and in other jurisdictions, we saw how, hiding in the guise of COVID-19 pandemic fight, governments stifle democratic space and violated citizens’ rights and freedoms.”
He said even in America one of the most hit country by the disease, the emphasis was on respect for human rights and freedoms of citizens in the crusade to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic and persuasion not force and mandatory measures.
“With announced measures, we are afraid, they are a clear set of force than persuasion and potentially erodes effectiveness and existence of the transparency and accountability institutions and platforms. They may close up or become ineffective and then corrupt elements may have a field day in looting and plundering public resources,” he said.
Chipenzi said freedom of religion may also be undermined as there were religious members who do not believe in vaccinations and yet would be restricted from seeing government officers for services yet the Constitution protected them in Article 19 and that the Constitution does not support the restriction of a person to access public place on account his/her religious beliefs.
“With the foregoing and in the light and era of human rights awareness, government must be alive to the fact that people have stopped moving with their hearts alone but with brains to analyse every action by government as well,” he said.
Chipenzi said inasmuch as COVID-19 pandemic was a danger to every living human being on earth and vaccination was the current hope, there was need to use persuasive means to entice people to support the vaccination crusade through upped sensitisation and education around the crusade.
“As human beings, in this case citizens, when forced they potentially rebel as they don’t want to be ruled (forced), but governed. If forced, citizens may react badly because a sense or feeling of suppression peeps in for various reasons e.g. faith. Therefore, government leaders driving this two million people vaccination crusade must develop the art of persuasion than intimidation and force on citizens for them to respond positively to government and national processes,” he said.
“Otherwise, force breeds apathy and resentments which can undermine a noble process like the COVID-19 pandemic fight. It must be noted and emphasised that no one single person is against the right measures and education to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in this country.”
Chipenzi said majority citizens lack information to clear the many myths around the vaccines since the outbreak of the pandemic.
He said the myths must be cleared through sensitisation activities as a starting point for the new government.
Chipenzi said many people in the villages are “truly resistant to the vaccination crusade citing the same myths”.