a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, it has provisions that permit restrictions of these fundamental rights and freedoms in certain circumstances. In particular, Article 22(3) allows the restriction of freedom of expression in the interests of national defense, public safety, public order, and public health, or for the purpose of protecting the reputations, rights, and freedoms of others and maintaining the authority and independence of the courts. Based on these provisions, the government can restrict these freedoms using subsidiary laws such as the penal code, Public Order Act, Preservation of Public Security Act, and Emergency Powers Act.
Freedom of Expression: The government remained sensitive to criticism in general, particularly by the political opposition and civil society, and restricted the ability of individuals to criticize it freely or discuss matters of general public interest. In December 2018 the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced New Vision newspaper editor Derrick Sinjela to 18 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court for his public criticism of senior judges’ handling of the Savenda v. Stanbic case. President Lungu pardoned Sinjela in November. Gregory Chifire, director of the Southern Africa Network against Corruption, whom the court had convicted and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in November 2018 for similar charges, remained in exile at year’s end.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, but not without some restrictions. The government published two of the country’s four most widely circulated newspapers. One of the two privately owned newspapers opposed the ruling PF party, while the other supported the party and the government. Opposition political parties and civil society organizations contended government-run media failed to report objectively. Although state media covered government-sponsored and nongovernmental events, coverage was not fair; state media did not educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way, civil society organizations reported.
In addition to a multichannel government-controlled radio station that broadcasts nationwide, 73 private and community radio stations broadcast locally. Some radio stations experienced political pressure. Although some local private stations broadcast call-in and other talk programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, media bodies claimed journalists who appeared on such programs received threats from senior government officials and politicians if seen as too critical. Independent, private media outlets also often received threats from the government for providing airtime to the opposition. For example, on April 30, a group of PF supporters, locally known as “cadres,” attacked opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) leader Chishimba Kambwili in Kabwe during a live radio broadcast on Power FM radio station, disrupting the program and damaging property as they forcibly entered the station.
According to media watchdog organizations, independent media did not operate freely due to restrictions imposed by government authorities. Police reportedly did not sufficiently investigate journalists’ assault cases, and some media houses were threatened with closure for unfavorable or insufficient coverage of the president. On several occasions, police used force to interrupt broadcasts.
Violence and Harassment: While the government broadly tolerated negative articles in newspapers and magazines, there were numerous reports of government, ruling party, and some opposition officials and supporters physically and verbally attacking or threatening journalists. For example, on May 1, a group of PF “cadres” forcibly entered Radio Maria, a Roman Catholic-run station in Chipata, Eastern Province. They harassed journalists and threatened to burn down the station for featuring a rival candidate for provincial leadership. President Lungu condemned the attack and ordered police to arrest perpetrators; authorities later arrested two PF members. Involved parties later resolved the matter outside of court, and authorities released the arrested individuals.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government remained sensitive to media criticism and indirectly censored publications or penalized publishers. Numerous media watchdog organizations reported that harassment and arrest of journalists, threats by the government to introduce punitive legislation against media personnel, restriction of their access to public places, and undue influence, among other restrictions, compromised media freedom and resulted in self-censorship. For example, on March 4, the government Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended private media Prime TV’s broadcasting license for almost a month, for alleging the station had failed to comply with IBA regulations. The IBA investigated the station after ruling PF Party Secretary General Davies Mwila accused Prime TV of “biased coverage and unethical reporting” and insufficient coverage of ruling party events during a parliamentary by-election. The IBA concluded that Prime TV, which at times showed programing critical of the government, had “exhibited unprofessional elements in its broadcasting through unbalanced coverage, opinionated news, material likely to incite violence, and use of derogatory language.” The IBA recommended that Prime TV should conduct in-house journalism ethics training and news writing for its journalists during the period of suspension.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government and individual public figures used laws against libel, slander, or defamation against critics to restrict public discussion or retaliate against political opponents. The government also often used sedition laws against those critical of the government. For example, on March 23, police arrested and charged opposition Patriots for Economic Progress leader Sean Tembo with defamation of the president after Tembo alleged on social media that President Lungu was possibly suffering from a mental illness that led him to make “irrational national decisions,” such as purchasing a new presidential jet. The charges remained pending at year’s end.
Although government generally did not restrict access, and individuals and groups could freely express their views via the internet, the government threatened individuals using online fora with arrest and online media with closure. On August 14, the Wall Street Journal alleged that a government cybercrime “crack” squad intercepted encrypted communications and used mobile phone data to track some opposition bloggers who had repeatedly criticized President Lungu. Senior ruling party officials dismissed the allegation as “fake news.”
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
Government restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events continued. For example, on August 13, police blocked PF presidential contender Kelvin Bwalya Fube from addressing students at “an entrepreneurship and academic motivational talk” organized by the Student Impact and UNZA Sociology Association.
Although there were no reports of censorship of academic teaching, writing, or research, university staff working in management had little autonomy to manage their institutions without government interference. In a letter dated September 4, the UNZA Lecturers and Researchers Union advised Higher Education Minister Brian Mushimba against interfering in the affairs of public universities and urged him to leave the running of the institutions to university managements and councils.
There were restrictions on artistic presentations or other cultural activities, including music lyrics and theatrical performances. For example, authorities banned the music of hip-hop artist Fumba Chama, professionally known as “Pilato,” on the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation and other state media. Private radio stations continued to play his music, except for two of his songs that criticized the president.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government at times restricted peaceful assembly, while generally respecting freedom of association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly; however, the government at times restricted this right, and police and progovernment groups disrupted meetings, rallies, and other activities of opposition political parties and civil society organizations. While authorities allowed protests and rallies, police at times delayed authorization or forced organizers to hold events at less favorable locations and times, especially for opposition party events or events seen as critical of the government. On November 3, police rescinded authorization for a Democratic Party rally in Samfya after initially granting it. Police later used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered despite the revocation.
The Public Order Act requires political parties and other groups to notify police in advance of any rallies but does not require a formal approval or permit. In 1995 the Supreme Court declared provisions in the act that previously gave police the power to regulate assemblies, public meetings, or processions unconstitutional. Police, however, continued to disregard this landmark ruling and stopped opposition and civil society groups from holding public gatherings. For example, on August 6, police arrested and charged 27 UPND members in Kitwe for unlawful assembly. According to the newspaper Zambia Daily Mail, the members had gathered for a political meeting without notifying police as required by law. UPND officials claimed the meeting took place in a private residence; authorities released all the arrestees after they paid an “admission of guilt” fine. On September 24, police blocked opposition UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema’s visit to the town of Kafue, where he intended to visit local residents experiencing food insecurity, despite Hichilema having notified authorities under the Public Order Act.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for freedom of association. While the government generally respected the right to freedom of association, it placed some limits on this right through various mechanisms. For example, although it generally went unenforced, the NGO Act requires all organizations to apply for registration from the registrar of societies. The registration process is stringent, long, and gives the registrar considerable discretion. The law also places restrictions on funding from foreign sources. For this reason, donors, including some UN agencies, required all organizations to register under the NGO Act before receiving funding. According to the Southern African Center for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, uncertainties surrounding the implementation of the NGO Act and NGO policy affected the operations of civil society organizations.
Despite these restrictions, the government liberally allowed civil society organizations to hold meetings in which they criticized it.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The government intermittently restricted freedom of internal movement for internally displaced persons, refugees, and stateless persons. Although police generally used roadblocks to control criminal activity, enforce customs and immigration controls, check drivers’ documents, and inspect vehicles for safety compliance, there were reports police used such interventions to limit participation in political gatherings, especially during parliamentary and local government by-elections.
e. Internally Displaced Persons
There were not large numbers of internally displaced persons. The government promoted the safe resettlement of the few groups displaced for construction or other government-sanctioned activities.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in October, sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remained the greatest protection risk in refugee locations, both urban and camp settings. Authorities provided some physical protection, including by the provision of temporary police posts, but efforts were insufficient. UNHCR supported government efforts with counselling services, access to medical facilities, and access to justice for survivors of SGBV. The most commonly reported forms of SGBV included sex in exchange for basic needs, rape, sexual harassment, and underage marriage. Gender inequality, lack of livelihood opportunities, substance abuse, and impunity of perpetrators were among the key structural causes.
The government cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration, and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, although the law provides for the granting of asylum, it also gives the minister of home affairs wide discretion to deport refugees without appeal or to deny asylum to applicants holding asylum from other countries or those coming from stable democratic states. The government was responsible for conducting refugee status determinations.
Freedom of Movement: Zambia has made a number of reservations to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, including the freedom of movement. For example, the established encampment policy requires recognized refugees to reside in one of three designated refugee settlements. Only refugees who have received a permit for work, study, health, or protection reasons can legally stay in urban areas. Refugees in the settlements can obtain passes to leave the settlements for up to 60 days, but police officers’ unfamiliarity with different permits and passes put them at risk of administrative detention.
Employment: The law requires refugees to obtain work permits before they can engage in employment, including self-employment activities. Issuance of employment permits is subject to normal immigration procedures, including the application of a government policy that requires the immigration department to ascertain that there is no Zambian citizen who can perform the job.
Access to Basic Services: The government provided basic social services, including education, housing, and health care to refugees without discrimination. The government provided primary and secondary education in refugee settlements, and secondary school for refugees living in urban areas, but required a study permit and the payment of school fees.
Durable Solutions: The government promoted safe, voluntary return, resettlement, and local integration of refugees and stateless persons. According to the government’s Office of the Commissioner for Refugees, 210,000 refugees–mainly from Angola, Mozambique, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)–over time voluntarily returned to their countries of origin as conflicts there waned. The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Office of the Commissioner for Refugees reported that of 20,000 Angolan and 4,000 Rwandan refugees accepted for naturalization, the government issued residence permits to more than 3,000 and offered them land in a local resettlement and integration program. Delayed passport issuance for both Angolans and Rwandans by their respective nations’ diplomatic and consular representatives kept several thousand in legal limbo.
In a joint effort by the government, UNHCR, and international and local NGOs, settlement areas in Mantapala, Mayukwayukwa, and Meheba provided refugees from the DRC an opportunity to settle permanently in Zambia. Refugees were provided land for agricultural use as well as space for housing near social services. The areas also include already established villages as a way to promote local integration of refugees.
Temporary Protection: The government provided protection to 4,179 individuals who may not qualify as refugees from January 1 to September 30, and the recognition rate of asylum claims was high. Those rejected could appeal via the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government continued to provide temporary protection to stateless persons.
g. Stateless Persons
According to UNHCR, the country has no provision for maintaining statistical information regarding stateless persons. The Ministry of Home Affairs reported a relatively small number of undocumented habitual residents–mainly hunters and gatherers– were integrated into local rural communities following the destruction of their natural habitat due to development activities. The government was in the process of issuing them national identity documents. The Department of Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit, under the Office of the Vice President, assists stateless persons.