A brutal attack against civil society organisations and journalists by a government-sponsored militia highlights the need for greater international pressure on Zambia’s leadership to respect basic human rights, says the Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR).
On Friday, May 31 an indoor meeting convened by numerous civil society organisations in the Matero area of Lusaka was violently attacked by a militia affiliated with the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. The attackers stormed the church where the meeting was being held, brandishing machetes, axe handles, and other weapons, beating the protesters and journalists forcing the dispersal of the meeting. One journalist from ZNBC was severely beaten, as well as Bishop John Mambo. Several individuals were rushed to the hospital.
“The PF government’s use of trained militias to attack Zambian citizens must be halted immediately and unconditionally,” said Robert Amsterdam, international counsel to the CDDR. “Despite repeated attacks, to date we have not heard a single statement by any PF leaders rejecting this violence, while police have failed to arrest the perpetrators or protect citizens.”
“There is one person to blame for this state-sponsored violence, and that is President Michael Sata, who established a culture of impunity by freeing a violent convicted felon like Judge Ngoma as one of his first acts in government. He should hang his head in shame for allowing armed thugs acting under his orders to enter a church and beat up a bishop. With blood on his hands once again, there are clear grounds for the people of Zambia to call for his impeachment,” said Amsterdam.
The civil society organisations had originally applied for permission to hold their ‘Black Friday’ protest rally at an outdoor location, but were blocked by the PF government’s invocation of the colonial-era Public Order Act. Featuring the participation of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), the Foundation for Democratic Processes (FODEP), Operation Young Vote, and numerous others, the Black Friday protest movement seeks to debate the PF government’s handling of the recent removal of both fuel and maize subsidies without any warning or preparation for citizens.
Earlier in May, news reports emerged that the PF government had formed a special wing of its security services under the direction of Secretary General Wynter Kabimba to act as a militia, targeting opponents of the government with violent attacks. The militia is said to be responsible for a violent attack against Bowman Lusambo, a member of the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), on May 22.
In the five months since the CDDR presented a report to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group detailing abuses of human rights by the PF government, the rights situation has deteriorated significantly in Zambia, with numerous politically motivated arrests of protesters and cases of violent attacks against the opposition. A second report detailing the latest events is currently being prepared by the CDDR for delivery to the Commonwealth and other international bodies.