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Church Leaders in Zambia Caution against Curtailing Rights, Freedoms

Logos of the Mother Church Bodies in Zambia

Months to the general elections in Zambia, Church leaders in the country have, in a collective statement, cautioned against curtailing rights and freedoms of citizens and groups in the Southern African nation.

In their collective statement ahead of the August 12 general elections, the members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) express concerns about the selective application of the Public Order Act (POA), which seeks to safeguard freedom of association, expression, and the right to assemble.

“Zambia has experienced a situation where the Public Order Act (POA) has continued to be applied selectively to curtail the ability of opposition political parties to mobilize and publicize their manifestos and to shut up other players with contrary views from those of government and the party in power,” the Church leaders say in their March 19 statement. 

They add, “The perception that law enforcement agents had been biased and only favoring individuals from the ruling party, is now a reality that is making non ruling party members take the law into their own hands.”

They express their condemnation for the selective application of law and order in Zambia and explain, “Incidents where police stand by and watch members of the ruling party destroying property belonging to citizens is dangerous because it has the potential to erode the reduced confidence people have in police protection.”

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The representatives of the “Three Mother Church Bodies” regret that sometimes, violence has been “committed by the Zambia police, who are supposed to protect citizens and instead use lethal weapons leading to loss of lives.”

While the burden of ensuring law and order is observed in the country lies on everyone, the Church leaders say, police officers “carry a special mandate to enforce law and order where society fails to voluntarily regulate itself.”

“Given the diverse interests there is in Zambia, especially during elections, the police service has to stand firm and remain impartial at all times, if it has to win the confidence and trust of the people,” the Church leaders say in their statement signed by Bishop George Lungu, Bishop Sauros Phaika and Bishop Paul Mususu of ZCCB, CCZ and EFZ respectively.

The leaders also express concerns about the failure of public media to “fairly provide a platform for all Zambians, regardless of their political affiliation, to air their views and express their opinions on them.”

Making reference to the Panos Institute of Southern Africa (PSAf) and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Christian leaders say that the coverage by public media houses “has not been fair as they consistently fail to educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way.”

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They further condemn the crackdowns on private media outlets saying that such acts infringe on “the freedom of expression that Zambians are entitled to enjoy.”

They say that the crackdown on the Post Newspaper in 2016,  the temporary shutdown of  MUVI TV and Komboni radio after the 2011 polls, and the 2020 closure of Prime TV, “sent a clear message to all private media that criticizing Government decisions and actions could put them in trouble.”

“Some journalists from private stations that broadcast call-in and other talk show programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, received threats from senior government and ruling party officials and politicians,” the Church leaders recount in their seven-page statement.

Referencing the February 12 Presidential Address in Parliament when the Head of State said the media policy launched in November 2020 will guarantee press freedom in the country, the leaders of the three church bodies say that the government seems to recognize the importance of the media.

However, the church leaders say, they wait to see the concrete measures that will be taken to guarantee media freedom during the forthcoming elections.

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To attain media freedom, the Christian leaders in Zambia appeal to the officials of the country’s Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to “show that they are truly independent, effective and act in a manner that is fair and protective of all the media.”

They also call on all journalists in the country to practice constructive and peace journalism by “avoiding sensational journalism and always aspiring to be truthful, fair and ethical in their reporting.”

They acknowledge the Church’s critical role in advocating for social justice, stewardship of national resources and good governance and call on all members of Clergy in the country to continue preaching peace, unity and tolerance before, during and after the elections.

“Remember that if we want peace, we must work for justice,” the church leaders say in their March 19 statement, adding, “The Church must be non-partisan and avoid receiving gifts that have the potential to make it lose its prophetic voice.”

They express their commitment to engaging with the country’s leadership, members of political parties, and officials of institutions such as the Media and the Zambia Police to ensure “a meaningful dialogue that will yield results, so that we guarantee for our people free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.”

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