If there was any doubt of governments poor human rights record this was laid to rest yesterday by the American charges d’affaires, David Young.
He was very categorical in condemning the use of panga’s, intimidation and frustration of the opposition in a country that espoused the tenets of democracy.
There is no doubt that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and assembly have come under attack by such laws as the Public Order Act, and Section 67 of the penal code penalizing alleged dissemination of false information.
This has been worsened by panga-violence in which opposition members have been subjected to brutal attacks and sadly the police who have also meted out gratuitous violence have failed to bring to book culprits responsible for mayhem, injury and in some cases death.
To date the police have failed to identify and bring to book the people who killed Moses Simuwela who was a victim of intra-party political party which has continued to bedevil the patriotic front. This failure has perpetuated fear of police reluctance to prosecute those who perpetuated violence in the ruling party.
Added to this is a selective application of the Public Order Act, which has limited space for the opposition. Combined these create a level of intolerance that can very easily detract from the vibrant democracy we have enjoyed to an atmosphere of unnecessary and uncalled for conflict that will drag the country back.
Our current democracy is the result of painstaking effort by political actors and the people of Zambia who have worked hard to create a level playing field called a multi-party democracy, symbolizing that dissent and difference of opinion were not only acceptable but in fact the norm of democratic practice.
Sadly, as noticed by ambassador Young, the situation has changed remarkably and any dissent has been equated to enmity. The non-governmental organizations which supported the Patriotic Front in the run up to 2011 elections have also fallen foul because of their demand for the fulfillment of pre-election promises.
The resulting tension is undermining democracy, freedom of expression and indeed undermining the inalienable rights as espoused in the constitution. That is why our friends who care about the peace and tranquility that Zambia has enjoyed over the years are very worried about the emergence of violence, particularly the panga culture that is at play.
Only last week, supporters of GBM were attacked by other PF members outside the Matero police station.
One of the supporters was hacked in the head and had to receive urgent medical attention.
The greatest fear is that as we approach the 2016 elections, violence will get worse, thereby frustrating any possibility of political interaction and any semblance of free and fair elections.
There is urgent need that the government should take heed from the advice from the United States to reign in violent cadres and ensure that dissent is not criminalized but is rather considered as part and parcel of democracy.