Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, and the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) are alarmed at attacks on the independence of the NGO sector and the media in Zambia.
The Zambian government is starting to implement a controversial 2009 NGO law by requiring all NGOs to re-register. This law creates a difficult environment for civil society as highlighted by CIVICUS in its letter to former President Rupiah Banda. It includes the requirement for NGOs to be subjected to oversight by a government dominated board; government powers to dictate NGOs thematic and geographical areas of work; streamlining of NGOs’ work according to the objectives dictated in the National Development Plan; and increased red tape through mandatory re-registration every five years .
“Freedom of expression and the right to criticise the government is under severe threat in Zambia at present. A number of NGOs are concerned that government’s directive calling upon all NGOs to re-register under the law will be used as a tool to subject outspoken advocacy organisations to bureaucratic harassment,’ said Lewis Mwape of ZCSD.
In July 2013 alone, three journalists associated with the online news platform, Zambian Watchdog, which has exposed a number of official corruption scandals, were subjected to politically motivated arrests and harassment by law enforcement agencies. The charges have varied from “possession of military documents’ to possession of “obscene material’ to “sedition’, in what are widely viewed as reprisals for their independent and critical reporting. According to an independent news source, access to the Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports in Zambia has been blocked.
“The situation in Zambia is fast deteriorating. The wanton targeting of activists and journalists is shocking,’ said David Kode of CIVICUS. “Zambia’s neighbours, trading and development partners must engage President Sata’s government to stop the crackdown on democratic rights in the country.’
CIVICUS and ZCSD urge the government of Zambia to (i) respect its human rights obligations by suspending the implementation of the NGO Law and amending it in consultation with civil society (ii) guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of all journalists and representatives of the media and (iii) end all forms of discrimination and harassments against journalists and all citizens with opposing views on national matters.