Zambia is a constitutional republic governed by a democratically elected president and a unicameral national assembly. In 2016 the country held elections under an amended constitution for president, national assembly seats, and local government, as well as a referendum on an enhanced bill of rights. The incumbent, Patriotic Front President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, won re-election by a narrow margin. The losing main opposition United Party for National Development candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, challenged the election results but was unsuccessful due to a legal technicality. International and local observers deemed the election credible but cited a number of irregularities. The pre-election and postelection periods were marred by limits on press freedom and political party intolerance resulting in sporadic violence across the country. Although the results ultimately were deemed a credible reflection of votes cast, media coverage, police actions, and legal restrictions heavily favored the ruling party and prevented the election from being genuinely fair.
The Zambia Police Service has primary responsibility for internal security and reports to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The military consists of the army, the air force, and the Zambia National Service and are under the Ministry of Defense; however, the commanders of each respective service are appointed by and report directly to the president. The military is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities in cases of national emergency. The president appoints the commanders of each military service who report directly to him. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings; torture and cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, censorship, and the application of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the right to freedom of assembly; official corruption; the existence and use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and widespread child labor.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, and punish perpetrators of human rights law violations. Nevertheless, impunity remained a problem because perpetrators affiliated with the ruling party or serving in government were either not prosecuted for serious crimes or, if prosecuted, were acquitted or released after serving small fractions of prison sentences. The government applied the law selectively to prosecute or punish individuals who committed abuses and mostly targeted those who criticized the ruling party.