US Human Rights Report for 2013 finds massive abuse in Zambia

The latest (2013) United States (US) Human Rights Report on Zambia has revealed serious human rights abuses.

The report says during the past year, there were arbitrary arrests opposition leaders and that government arrested journalists more frequently than in previous years.

The report said the three main Daily Newspapers were are pro-government but government was intolerant to independent voices.

On Internet Freedom, the report says the government blocked Zambian Watchdog and two other websites Zambia Reports and Barotse Post.

‘The most important were abuses by security forces, including reports of unlawful killings, torture, and beatings; life-threatening prison conditions; and restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, and association’ the report reads.

Other serious human rights problems included arbitrary arrest, prolonged pretrial detention, arbitrary interference with privacy, government corruption, violence and discrimination against women, child abuse, trafficking in persons, discrimination against persons with disabilities and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, restrictions on labor rights, forced labor, and child labor.

‘The government took limited steps to prosecute officials suspected of corruption or human rights abuses during the year; however, impunity remained a problem.’

The report says police arbitrarily arrested opposition leaders. For example, on February 25, police detained 40 United Party for National Development (UPND) members, including members of parliament (MPs), in Livingstone. Police charged the 40 with the murder of Patriotic Front (PF) member Harrison Chanda during the campaign leading up to the Livingstone Central by-election. On March 11, police dropped all charges and released the detainees without explanation. On July 25, police arrested and detained Andrew Banda, son of former president Rupiah Banda, for allegedly referring to President Sata as a “Satanist.” Police later released Banda without a clear explanation. On September 6 in Mkaika, Banda was attacked by PF “cadres” (young men armed with machetes, sticks, and axes). Police were present but did not prevent the attack. The Public Order Act requires political parties to inform police of any planned rallies beforehand. Police often used the act to deny permits to opposition groups on the grounds of inadequate staff, after which police responded in force at rallies to arrest opposition leaders and their supporters. By contrast PF supporters, who sometimes were armed, often held rallies without submitting prior notification, and police seldom interfered.

On Freedom of Speech the report says the government was sensitive to criticism by opposition leaders and their supporters and was quick to prosecute critics using the legal pretext that they had defamed the president or had incited public disorder. For example, on January 17, police arrested opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema, citing defamation statutes after Hichilema criticized President Sata during a tour of a public market. Hichilema appeared before the court several times during the year, but was not under active court proceedings at year’s end. On June 12, PF supporters poured beer over prominent government critic Father Frank Bwalya as he was entering Flava FM radio studios for an interview.

On September 23, police summoned MMD leader Nevers Mumba for allegedly insulting the president in a radio interview. There were other instances of PF supporters accosting government critics and attempting to prevent them from conducting radio interviews; police did not prevent the harassment. The government monitored opposition political meetings. President Sata stated that security services had “infiltrated” the UPND in September. Press Freedoms: Two of the country’s three most widely circulated newspapers were government-run, while the third was perceived by many to be progovernment.

Opposition political parties and civil society organizations complained that the three newspapers did not report objectively, despite the occasional story that criticized the government. In addition to a government-controlled radio station, numerous private radio stations, including community radio stations, broadcast largely without interference.

The government revoked newly issued nationwide licenses for QFM and Radio Phoenix after President Sata dismissed a government official in October for issuing the licenses; the government claimed the stations gave the opposition too much coverage. Some local private stations broadcast call-in programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were freely expressed. The government-owned Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation was the principal local content television station. Privately owned and foreign-owned television stations also broadcast. International services were not restricted. One private television station gained coverage and viewership during the year, but the only station with national coverage was government-run. Violence and Harassment: Although the government stated that it tolerated negative articles in newspapers, several journalists reported receiving threatening phone calls urging them not to print critical information. Police arrested journalists more frequently than in previous years. Progovernment political activists and state agents often subjected journalists to physical attack, harassment, and intimidation. On July 9, police raided the residences of journalists Clayson Hamasaka and Thomas Zgambo, who they later detained on suspicion of possessing illegal drugs and “seditious” material (handwritten notes on President Sata’s biography). Police confiscated the journalists’ computers, but released Hamasaka on July 10 and Zgambo on July 11 without charge. Police later re-arrested Hamasaka and charged him with possession of “obscene” pictures. Zgambo also was re-arrested on a similar charge. Both were released on bail but continued to appear in court at year’s end. Opposition sources revealed that police suspected the journalists of running the Zambian Watchdog, an anonymous online news and opinion blog. On July 16, police arrested Wilson Pondamali, charging him with illegal possession of a military document and theft of a local council book. According to media sources, police suspected Pondamali of being a key contributor to the Zambian Watchdog. On December 11, police arrested Foundation for Democratic Progress (FODEP) Executive Director MacDonald Chipenzi, Daily Nation Managing Editor Paul Sakala, and another of the newspaper’s reporters for publishing a story on alleged secret recruitment of police outside the normal process. Police charged the three with publishing false information and held them for nearly two days, postponing bail procedures with what some observers perceived to be contrived bureaucratic delays. Trial proceedings had begun at year’s end. Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government remained sensitive to media criticism.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zambia Chapter) criticized police in June for disregarding the 2010 Whistleblowers Act and attempting to censor journalists covering stories the government might perceive to be negative. Libel Laws/National Security: Libel laws were used to suppress free speech and the press. On January 15, while in court for charges of issuing a statement likely to cause public alarm, police interrupted court proceedings and tried to arrest opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema for allegedly insulting President Sata. Police later arrested Hichilema and charged him with defamation for allegedly publishing a defamatory statement January 13 article in the Daily Nation. On September 23, police summoned MMD leader Nevers Mumba for allegedly insulting the president in a radio interview.

 On Internet Freedom, the report says Although access generally was not restricted and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government targeted and blocked some online publications. From June 24 to July 16, the government blocked access to the antigovernment online publication the Zambian Watchdog on all but one internet service provider (ISP). As of July 16, the Zambian Watchdog was no longer accessible from Zambia-based ISPs. The Zambian Watchdog relocated to a different domain name and continued to operate its Facebook page, which was accessible. Vice President Guy Scott acknowledged in the National Assembly on June 28 that the government restricted the website domestically. Officials arrested three suspected contributors to the Zambian Watchdog, Clayson Hamasaka, Thomas Zgambo, and Wilson Pondamali, and charged them with “possessing obscene material,” “possession of seditious material with intent to publish,” and “unlawful possession of a restricted military pamphlet,” respectively. Two other online blogs, Zambia Reports and Barotse Reports, were also blocked, although both were available on Facebook and through non-Zambian ISPs.

 You can read the full report on the USA Embassy website here:

 

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