Political Oppression And Abuse Of Human Rights In Zambia

Oct 13, 2021  •  25 min read


Zambia is a plural democracy country in the southern part of Africa. Since its independence from British rule in 1964, the country has generally been described as a peaceful nation, as there has been no single outbreak of civil or intercultural war. However in the recent years, there have been reports of serious violations of human rights in this country. This has led to many political commentators to define the country as slowly slipping into a dictatorship. These violations range from politically motivated arrest of individuals with divergent views from that of the government, prolonged pre-trial incarceration, abuse of freedom of assembly, association and movement, among others. Media houses that attempt to cover events of opposition political parties and other individuals with divergent views are subjected to brutal assault, resulting in multiple arrests of journalists and closure of some of the media houses. This paper will focus on political oppression and some cases of human rights abuse that occurred in the months leading to the previous general elections and during the post-election period. It will highlight some of the major human rights violations that took place within this period, with emphasis on the right to freedom of assembly, association, movement and access to information. It will finally conclude with recommendations on how these violations can be stopped and/or reduced and the role of the international community in the fight against human rights violations.

Keywords: political oppression, Human rights, freedom, assembly, association, violation, abuse, assault, brutality, arrest


Zambia went to the polls on the 11th August 2016 under a new constitution to elect the republican president, Member of Parliament (MPs) and local government representatives. The presidential election was contested by 5 political parties while the parliamentary and local government elections were by several political parties and independent candidates. The results of this election showed the incumbent president Edger Chagwa Lungu of the Patriotic Front (PF) party win by a small margin at 50.3% while his closest contender Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) got 48.5% of the results with the rest parties getting less than a per cent in total. A controlled legal process saw the opposition candidate unsuccessfully challenge the election results. The pre-and post-election periods were marred by police brutality, intimidation and limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results were ultimately deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favoured the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair. During this period of campaigns and post-election period, several human rights abuses were reported, some of them which even attracted the attention of international media.

Political Oppression

The Wikipedia online dictionary defines Political Oppression, also known as Political repression, as the persecution of an individual or group within society for political reasons, particularly for the purpose of restricting or preventing their ability to take part in the political life of a society thereby reducing their standing among their fellow citizens.

Political Oppression is often manifested through discriminatory policies, such as human rights violation, police brutality, imprisonment, involuntary settlement, stripping of citizen’s rights, lustration and violent action or terror such as murder, summary executions, torture, forced disappearance and other extrajudicial punishment of political activists, dissidents, or general population. In Zambia, this oppression is usually in form of human rights violation, police brutality, extrajudicial punishment and imprisonment.

Abuse of Human rights before elections

During the run-up to the August 2016 election, there was a lot of political oppression by the ruling party. These were mainly in form of abuse of the right to freedom of assembly, movement and mainly targeted at the opposition political parties and those who had divergent views from the governments. Media houses that attempted to cover events of opposition political parties and other individuals with divergent views were subjected to a brutal assault, resulting in multiple arrests of journalists and closure of some media houses. The main sources of abuse come from the application of the public order act which the police apply partially to favour the elites and those in power.

The Public order act

The Public Order Act Chapter 113 of the Laws of Zambia, hereinafter referred to as the ‘POA’, is a piece of legislation that was enacted during the colonial days in order to suppress the independent struggle. However, after independence, this law was not repealed but carried over by the post-independent government. The Public Order Act regulates public meetings and processions. Pursuant to Section 5 (4) of the Act every person who intends to assemble or convene a public meeting, procession, or demonstration shall give the police at least seven days notice of that person’s intention to assemble or convene such a meeting, procession or demonstration. This entails that anyone who participates in a meeting or procession for which no permit has been issued may be arrested without a warrant and charged with unauthorized assembly.  Section 8 of the Act instructs the police officer, magistrate or any District messenger to stop any procession for which no permit has been issued under the Act, or where a permit has been granted but contravenes or fails to comply with the conditions specified in.

‘’Any person who intends to assemble or convene a public meeting, procession, or demonstration shall give the police at least seven days notice of that person’s intention to assemble or convene such a meeting, procession or demonstration’’

Suffice to say that these powers given to the police are vast and not amenable to any effective check.  Notably, The powers granted to the police in this Act have been abused on a number of occasions and therefore they can be considered to be unconstitutional as they violate the rights of expression, assembly and association which is a constitutional right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights which is enshrined in the Constitution of Zambia. The powers are not reasonably necessary for the preservation of public order and are not justifiable in a democratic state. Under pressure from their political superiors, the police take advantage of the act to frustrate any plans to hold demonstrations against the government which in itself amounts to censorship of the right of expression. The government also uses this same Act to disadvantage the opposition political parties during elections as mostly they are not allowed to assemble freely or to have free campaigns, while the party in power can do whatever it pleases without getting such permission or notifying the police.

Some of these incidences are listed below.

On March 12th 2016, police arrested Mr Eric Chanda of the 4th Revolution Party over comments he altered the previous year (May 2015) and he was charged wıth the defamatıon of the presıdent. It should be noted that the case he was arrested for was committed a year ago, and one wonders what the true intentions of his arrest were. The facts of the matter are that Mr Chanda at one of his press conferences charged that President Lungu had gone to Mfuwe (one of the game parks in Zambia and used as a Presidential retreat) to play pool and clubbing at the expense of taxpayers. This arrest was therefore believed to be a sign of growing intolerance by the Lungu administration in the build-up to the August elections and was intended at disrupting Mr Chanda’s presidential bid. The arrest of Mr Chanda also led to the detention, questioning and officially charging of The Post(one of Zambia’s private owned newspaper companıes, currently under litigation) managing editor Joan Chriwa-Ngoma and reporter Mukosha Funga. The duo was too charged for the deformation of the president because of the article written by Fung included an allegedly ‘defamatory quote’ from opposition politician Eric Chanda. The duo was detained for about 30 minutes before being released on bail.

On March 21 2016, an online media reported that Radio Mano, a community radio station in Kasama District, of the Northern Province of Zambia, was forced to suspend operation due to threats of violence by PF cadres against its journalists. PF Deputy Spokesperson Frank Bwalya justified the harassment and defended what he saw as the right of a political party to complain if they felt inadequately covered.

On July 8 2016, Zambia police in Lusaka shot dead Mapenzi Chibulo, a female UPND party supporter and another male carder were seriously injured. This happened when Police ambushed a group of supporters that were marching in the Central Business District after Police cancelled a planned rally in the Chawama compound of Lusaka. This is against resolution 45/166 in 1990 of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. It must also be noted that the above-mentioned rally was applied for in accordance with the provision of the POA and approved by the police central command but was however cancelled less than 24 hours prıor to it taking place. No reason for the cancellation was communicated to the party leadership and as a result, the party supporters gathered for the rally as early advertised. When riot police officers arrived to prevent the rally from taking place, the carders resolved into undertaking a solidity match into the town centre. However, the resulting action of the police was both an abuse of people’s right to freedom of assembly and gathering and to the right to life, as provided for both in Article 3 of the United Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the Zambian constitution, as a life of a young innocent woman was taken.

Abuse of Human rights after the elections

The Zambian Constitution was established in 1991, and major amendments came into force in early 2016. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and all other written or customary law is subject to its provisions. The Constitution contains a Bill of Rights which has universal rights that apply to all persons equally. Human rights are legal entitlements for all citizens; they are recognised under part III of the constitution. The Bill of Rights guarantees the protection of fundamental rights and freedom; it lays emphasis on civil and political rights and is fashioned on what is known as the Neo-Nigerian style where most rights are encumbered by derogations or exceptions clauses. Article 21 (1) of the constitutions provides that, a person shall not be hindered of his or her enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association which includes the right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade union or the other association for the protection of his interests. This article reflects Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 as well as Article 10 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedom of 1950.

‘’Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to any political party, trade union or other association for the protection of his interests.’’

However, after the highly contested election, whıch opposition political parties did not accept the results, the state, through the police, has continued to infringe on the rights of its citizens. All those that want to offer checks and balances to the government and those who want to express their dissatisfaction via the internet, press briefings, peaceful protests or demonstration about the government are usually arrested and detained without trial, thence oppressing their voices. Below are examples of such arrests that have occurred:

On 5th October 2016, Mrs Lesa Kasoma Nyirenda the director of Komboni Radio, a community station, was brutally beaten and stripped naked by police who accused her of assaulting them and resisting arrest. This was after Mrs Nyirenda asked the officers to vacate the private community radio station following the decision by the government-controlled Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to reinstate the suspended broadcasting license. The shocking thing was that during the Vice-President’s question time in Parliament on Friday 6th October 2016, Inonge Wina (who is a woman) justified the police action, saying Mrs Nyirenda assaulted the officers. However, after pressure from civil societies, the vice President apologized to Mrs Nyirenda.

‘‘It is unacceptable that three male armed police officers could resort to beating and stripping naked one woman as the only way of dealing with whatever situation may have been threatening peace at the time’’

This arrest and assault of Mrs Nyirenda were condemned by a lot of citizens and civil societies, among them the Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL). ZNWL National Board Chairperson Beauty Katebe issued a statement saying that it was unacceptable that three male armed police officers could resort to beating and stripping naked one woman as the only way of dealing with whatever situation may have been threatening peace at the time. After about 6 months of politically motivated trial, Mrs Nyirenda was however acquitted of her charges.

On 5th November 2016, The Zambia Police arrested MuviTV Journalist Njenje Chizu and charged him with conduct likely to cause the breach of peace. Njenje was picked from Radio Mano studios by over 100 police officers who stormed the station in a bid to stop UPND President Hakainde Hichilema and vice Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba from appearing at the radio station. The Zambia Police stopped Njenje and other Journalists from filming their sealing off of the community radio station in a bit to stop the station from airing a live paid-for UPND meeting for unknown reasons. This was a total assort on the people rights to information and assembly. To make matters worse, the radio station is registered in Zambia and operates within the confines of the law, and the scheduled interview which was supposed to be recorded was paid for and all legal procedures were followed. The arrested journalist was later released after spending days in police custody, without receiving a trial to stand his charge, and thus confirming that the arrest was just a way of intimidation from the police and the state at large.

On 11th April 2017, heavily armed police officers raided the residence of Zambia’s biggest opposition political party leader Hakainde Hichilema and arrested him. The polıce switched off power at the house, blocked the main roads and broke down the gates to the house to gain access to the house before firing teargas into the house. After breaking into the house, workers were tortured to force Mr Hichilema to come out from his bedroom, where he had locked himself up, mobile phones were confiscated and household items were damaged. It is also alleged that the police stole millions of kwacha during the same raid. The opposition leader and other 5 of his aides were then charged with treason. This charge was linked to a motorcade incidence that happened a fortnight ago where it was alleged that Mr Hichilema’s motorcade blocked the President’s convoy. This incident happened on the Mongu road where it was alleged that Hichilema’s motorcade refused to give way to the Presidential convoy. However, the arrest was condemned and said to be politically motivated and sparked tension in the country. This arrest was condemned by the Non-governmental Organization Coordinating Council, which is the umbrella of the countries action group. Commenting on the arrest, Mrs. Sara Longwe, organizations chairwoman stated that ‘arresting opposition leader on trumped-up charges is a recipe to heightening tension in an already violent economic and political environment. During their detention, the accused complained about being denied access to medical services, being physically abused, being kept in dirty rooms that posed a risk to their lives and being denied access to legal counsel.

‘‘Arresting an opposition leader on trumped-up charges is a recipe to heightening tension in an already violent economic and political environment’’

Mr Hichilema and his 5 co-accused were released on August 16th after spending 127 days in prison. This release came after the intervention of the Commonwealth under the leadership of its Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. This resulted in all the charges against him and his co-accused being dropped as the court entered a nolle prosequi.

On 14th April 2017, Police in Lusaka arrested the leader of the Economic and Equity Party (EEP), Chilufya Tayali in connection with a statement he posted on his Facebook page against the Inspector General (IG) of Police Kakoma Kanganja. The Police said that Tayali in his statement accused the I.G of covering his inefficiencies to Charge UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema with treason. It was also alleged that Mr Tayali further insinuated that Mr Kanganja planned what transpired in Mongu to kill the President. He was charged with criminal libel contrary to section 191 of the Penal Code. However, his arrest was condemned by all sectors of society as it was seen as a crackdown on all those that exercise their right to freedom of speech and speak against the government and the action of the police. Mr Tayali was detained for 5 days before being granted a K5,000 bail and appeared in court several times. Due to insufficient evidence in the case, on 18th August 2017, the Director of Public Prosecutions Lillian Siyuni entered a nolle prosequi in the case and set Mr Tayali free.

On 3rd August 2017 another opposition political party leader, Saviour Chishimba was arrested while he was being interviewed on a private television station in Lusaka. Mr Chishimba is the leader of the United Progressive Party (UPP), and he had been critical of the President challenging most of the government deals and seeking answers and clarifications from those in office, answers that are not given. Before being arrested, Mr Chishimba had indicated that he was hiding and living in fear of police intimidation. Chishimba was charged with the Defamation of the President over some words he used at his last press briefing. Facts of the case were that Mr Chishimba was heard saying President Lungu was making decisions while drunk and also saying that ‘techalo chaba nyina’ (the country does not belong to the president’s mother) in reference to the Head of State and the implementation of Article 31. However, Mr. Chishimba was released after spending one week in jail after police decided to discontinue the case. During the detention, Mr. Chishimba was denied bail and access to his lawyers contrary to the laws of Zambia. His Facebook blog posts, Mr. Chishimba outlined how he was abused and mistreated while he was in detention.

On 25th September 2017, heavily armed police officers under instructions from their seniors tried to stop Hon. Tutwa Ngulube, Member of Parliament for Kabwe Central constituency from holding a meeting where he was scheduled to address his supports that are facing various problems. One of the problems is that these poor citizens of Kafulamase ward are being evicted from the place where they have been stayıng since 1961 and the land is being given to other people with money. This in itself is a violation of the right to shelter and housing, and when the elected parliamentarian went to hear their plea he was forced to abandon the meeting, just because he is no longer in good books with the political leadership.

On 29th September 2017, Police together with Patriotic Front cadres moved into full gear in Lusaka to beat up and arrest Alliance for Community Action executive director Laura Miti, PeP president Sean Tembo, singer Fumba Chama popularly known by his stage name as Pilato and other protesters who had gathered at Parliament. The six were forcibly arrested after they staged a demonstration outside Parliament buildings over the controversial purchase of 42 fire trucks at a cost of US$42 million. They were charged with the offence of “disobeying lawful orders” contrary to clause 127 Cap 87 of the laws of Zambia. However thıs arrest and charge are seen to be absurd as they had informed the police about their planned protest as per the requirement of the law.


There have been high levels of political oppression and abuse of human rights in the period that was under review as shown above. These have resulted in imprisonment, loss of property and regrettably loss of life. The government has been using the police and sometimes the courts of law to persecute opponents and silence any critic of the government. Students, civil society organizations and other Non-Governmental organizations have been victims of this oppression, with the biggest victim being the media fraternity. This government crackdown on people with divergent views has instilled fear in most journalists. This has led most of the journalists to operate below par as they are afraid of harassment by political party carders, arrests by the police or imprisonment, and only reports about the things that seem to favour those in power. Due to this, investigative journalism has died a natural death as there is no law to protect such brave men and women who would want to make such an undertaking. There is, therefore, an urgent need to amend some laws that will provide for the protection of a human rights, rights of journalists and those with opposing views without ambiguity. Government media should rise to the occasion and offer equal coverage to all political players as opposed to only those in the ruling party. There is a need for the cultivation of morals by the Member of Parliament so that they can amend and enact laws that will serve beyond one’s political loyalty but for the benefits of the entire nation. Government should promote professionalism in the conduct of the police and stop using them as a tool to fight their political battles. The police should also apply the set laws equally, without prejudice depending on one’s political affiliation. This is another area that will need a new law that will insulate the police from political manipulation and influence.


From the afore-stated, the following recommendations have been made:A referendum to enact a new bill of rights, in accordance with article 79 of the Constitution of Zambia, was held parallel to the 2016 general elections. The changes to the Bill of rights included the amendment of the “Civil and Political Rights” and the addition of “Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights” and “Further and Special Rights” sections. Although 71% of voters voted in favour of the amendments, voter turnout was only 44%, below the 50% threshold required to validate the result. This was attributed to several reasons. These included failure to undertake comprehensive voter sensitization concerning the bill of rights and some political parties instructed their supporters not to vote in favour of the bill.

Therefore, we recommend that government should put up a road map to ensure that another referendum is held before the 2021 general elections. This will reduce the probability of having another constitutional crisis in the face of disputation of election results and it will increase the protection of the rights of the citizens especially with regards to freedom of assembly and association.

Access to information bill (also known as Freedom to information bill) must be enacted without any delay. This bill will give the general citizenry access to critical information that the government usually keep a secret. This will help in having an informed nation and reduce the unnecessary anxiety that comes with a lack of information. The continued denial by the government to enact this legislature is just aimed at them to continue their grip on the power to control the media and the information in circulation. Therefore, just like they have done to laws that suit them-by enacting them through parliament- they should do the same to the access to information bill.

Total repeal of the public order act (POA). This piece of legislature has caused more harm than good to the democracy of the nation. As highlighted above, this piece of legislature is usually abused by the party in government and it is not needed. It gives extreme powers to the police who are controlled by their superiors and thus used to suppress people the freedom to assembly and association. Therefore this law must be repealed in its totality as it serves no proper purpose apart from being used to persecute political opponents.

The defamation of the President Law should be abolished because it is archaic and discriminatory. This law carries a sentence of imprisonment, upon conviction, of a period not exceeding three years. The clause as provided for in chapter 87 Section 69 of Penal Code of the Laws of Zambia is old and archaic which was designed by the colonial masters to oppress blacks and their fight for independence and thus does not apply to countries in the 21st Moreover there is already a defamation law that applies to general citizens and thus there is no need to have a special law only for the president.

Government should consider introducing programmes of institutional and other
reform to the Zambia Police Service. This should include undertaking refresher courses of the police officer in crowd control and the use of force in crowd management. Government should prohibit the use of live ammunition in public order or crowd control situations in line with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Articles 1,2,5 of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action)

It has been more than a year since Mapenzi Chibulo was shot dead by the Police but no serious investigation had been done into the case. On several times the family of the deceased have appealed to the authorities to investigate the case and give them closure but their plea fell on deaf ears. Therefore the authorities must carry out a prompt and thorough investigation in the death of this innocent woman, and bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice in a fair trial.

Investigations should be undertaken in cases of alleged police brutality against journalists. There have been several complaints of police intimidation, harassment and arbitrary arrest of journalists, but there is no public information/record of a single case that has been investigated and the erring officer(s) brought to justice. This has led some police officers to continue abusing their powers with impunity. Therefore, the Police command should show interest in such cases and discipline the culprits accordingly.

The international organizatıon and nations that are members of the UNDHR treaty must take interest ın the events in Zambia. They should realise that when one person suffers oppression and abuse of his rights everyone else is affected. Developed nations should help the Zambian government in areas of capacity building and training, especially of the men in uniform as they represent a force for the protection of humans. Severe violation of human rights should attract the attention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), African Union (AU) and the United Nation High Commission on Human Rights (UNHCHR) at large. Regional organizations, SADC in particular, should take a keen interest in the reports of human rights violations in Zambia, and other member states, as the effect of these violations, are felt across its member countries.


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