During his time in opposition, President Hakainde Hichilema made a pledge to eliminate laws that posed a threat to human rights in Zambia. However, not all of these laws have been repealed, and there is no sign that he is ready to take action. In this situation, the international community can play a vital role in pressuring him to fulfill his promise.
Specifically, Hichilema’s commitment focused on laws such as the Public Order Act, Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act, Criminal Defamation of the President, and various sections of the Penal Code. These legislations had raised concerns about their impact on human rights in Zambia.
However, six months into his presidency, it appears that Hichilema may have forgotten about his initial commitment. On March 10th, 2022, while addressing Parliament on the progress related to the application of National Values and Principles, Hichilema even went as far as to threaten to employ existing laws to combat social media abuse.
This threat revealed a certain level of hypocrisy, as Hichilema’s administration had not introduced any new legislation to address social media abuse. It was clear that he was referring to the existing Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act, which he had promised to repeal after taking office.
Local human rights advocates, organizations, and individuals began to doubt Hichilema’s dedication to fulfilling his promise of eliminating oppressive laws. Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnes Callamard, appeared to share these concerns. During her visit to Zambia, she urged Hichilema to expedite his commitment to human rights.
In December 2022, President Hichilema made some positive steps by abolishing the death penalty and repealing criminal defamation of the president. However, the Public Order Act and the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act remained in place, still posing threats to human rights in Zambia.
The democratic process in the country is currently at risk, with freedom of expression, assembly, and association continuously undermined. Protests are denied permits, and opposition groups face challenges in organizing and mobilizing their parties.
People are becoming hesitant to provide checks and balances due to fear of being arrested for hate speech, enduring prolonged detention in inadequate facilities, and facing cruel treatment during their detention. Reports of torture allegations have also emerged, further highlighting the concerning situation.
President Hichilema and his administration seem to have forgotten their commitment to human rights. Another meeting with Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard could serve as a reminder of the urgent need to repeal the Public Order Act and the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act. These actions are crucial for upholding human rights in Zambia.