Abolish defamation laws-SAEF

Government has been urged to abolish as a matter of urgency criminal defamation laws which have led to the harassment, arrest and imprisonment of editors and journalist.

The Southern African Editors Forum (SAEF) has also called on President Michael Sata to sign the Table Mountain Declaration as it would immediately set Zambia on a good path in terms of respect for democracy, good governance and Human Rights.

SAEF Zambia chapter chairperson Kenny Makungu said that the Table Mountain Declaration calls on governments to recognise the indivisibility of media freedom and the states’ responsibility to respect their commitments to Africa and international protocols upholding the freedom, independence and the safety of the media.

Mr Makungu said the Zambian government should remove all the laws inimical to media freedom and withdraw cases involving media professionals.

He said apart from the archaic laws that undermine constitutional provisions on human rights especially freedom of expression, Zambia was yet to join the league of African countries which have enacted Access to Information law.

“We are renewing our commitment as SAEF to promoting media freedom. Other laws affecting the media are Censorship Act, Protected Places and Names Act and some clauses of the Penal Code. The editors’ council meeting last year, in Grahamstown preceded Highway Africa 2013 had the theme: Speaking Truth to Power which was basically a response to the growing inertia by African governments to enact Access to Information Laws.

“We demand and recommend that the government should review and in some cases repeal other pieces of legislation that would render access to information law ineffective. Most of these laws subsist in the Penal Code Cap 87 of the laws of Zambia and they include; among others prohibited publications and seditious practices, public order Act Cap 113, Contempt of Court, defamation of the President, State Security Act Chapter 11, Obscene matters or things and unlawful assemblies and riots, The ZNBC Amendment Act (on appointments of boards and Independent Broadcasting Authority (on appointment of board members),” Makungu said.

He said the forum believed that government should not be solely responsible for appointing board of directors for both the IBA and ZNBC, if they have to operate as independent entities.

Mr Makungu said the forum further called on government to set a firm time frame for the enactment of access to information law to help address some of the many complaints around this issue.

“We would also like to join other NGOs and media bodies that have called for the release of the final draft Constitution to the public. Additionally, SAEF is of the view that the Public Order Act has caused more controversy than unity in this country. It has been the most debated piece of legislature for many years and for some unknown reasons it is always favoured by the leaders in power,” he said.

Mr Makungu said the constitution should be amended and all controversial clauses deleted while the role of the police in the Act should be clearly spelt out.

He emphasized that this should include a clear clause of what police should not be allowed to do and that the law must be categorical that police should not, for any reason, respond to a notice for a lawful assembly.

“We believe a notice does not require any response because it is a notice for the police to be aware and do anything within their means to police the procession. It is our considered view that the POA has been used to deny people of their right to assembly or conduct lawful and civil processions as provided for in the Constitution of the land,” Makungu said.