from ARNOLD MULENGA in Lusaka, Zambia
LUSAKA, (CAJ News) – BY presiding over an administration that is jailing citizens for “insulting” and defaming him, Zambian President, Hakainde Hichilema, is entrenching the same oppressive system he pledged to dismantle.
This is a deviation by the ex-opposition leader from his pre-election pledge of upholding human rights, which had waned under the leadership of his predecessor, Edgar Lungu.
Almost a year into Hichilema’s historic election, an erosion of some liberties has been noted, not least the arraignment of members of the public and opposition figures under charges of defaming and “insulting” the president.
Recently, Justine Chimpinde (aged 19) and Danny Kapambwe (28) of Chienge district in the northern Luapula province were sentenced to 24 months in jail after pleading guilty to one count of “defamation of the President.”
It was heard in court that on June 14, the pair published “insults by word of mouth, whose insults were directed to the Republican President Hakainde Hichilema” on the TikTok online platform.
The Zambia Police and Zambia Army officers arrested the two men.
In April, the Lusaka Magistrates’ Court in the capital sentenced a driver, Andsen Zulu (46), to a year in prison on a charge of “defamation of the President and bringing his name into ridicule.”
It is alleged that on his Facebook page, Zulu alleged Hichilema was a disbeliever in Christ.
Hichilema is a Christian and is Adventist.
The legal fraternity is apparently complicit in the crackdown by Hichilema’s administration.
Magistrate Chrispine Hampungani said Zulu “brought the President’s name into disrepute.”
The magistrate sentenced the citizen to “one year imprisonment with hard labour” to deter other citizens.
A woman, Saliya Laisha (24), is facing a three-year sentence for allegedly defaming Hichilema.
She has been charged with contravening Section 69 of the Penal Code by allegedly claiming Hichilema had sacrificed some Seventh Day Adventist youths who drowned in the Kariba Dam in January.
The deceased were part of a larger grouping for a New Year retreat.
It is alleged Laisha accused Hichilema of failing to do his job but relying on the so-called sacrifice to better his performance as president.
Prosecutors allege the woman through the alleged action, aimed to bring Hichilema into “ridicule, contempt and hatred.”
Raphael Nakacinda, one of Hichilema’s fiercest critics and a member of the main opposition Patriotic Front (PF) Central Committee, has on more than one occasion been arrested and slapped with charges of defaming the president.
In one case, he allegedly said Hichilema and “foreign friends” were planning to evict residents to build a shopping mall.
It is alleged he further proclaimed Hichilema had summoned judges at his private residence to influence them to frustrate PF legal battles.
PF is the party Hichilema’s United Party for National Development (UPND) defeated in elections last August.
The president has been quoted in some media describing Nakacinda as a “lunatic.”
Following Liasha’s arrest, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) expressed worry Zambia continued to hold onto archaic laws such as criminal defamation and use these to prosecute citizens.
“It is, therefore, disconcerting that President Hichilema, who promised to reform the freedom of expression environment when he was elected, still holds onto undemocratic laws such as criminal defamation, which are a relic of the past administration,” MISA stated.
Ironically, during his days as an opposition leader, Hichilema was arrested on charges of defaming sitting presidents. Now, he is presiding over an administration that is jailing his critics.
He also spent four months in prison in 2017 for alleged treason.
Addressing the European Parliament in late June, Hichilema said the rule of law and respect for human rights were “progressively being restored in Zambia.”
“In the Zambia we inherited, freedom of expression and association and civic participation was curtailed,” Zambia’s seventh president said.
“Our democratic institutions, designed to ensure checks and balances, were compromised and reduced to mere instruments of dominance for those who held power,” Hichilema said
– CAJ News