11 August 2021, Ahead of the highly anticipated elections in Zambia tomorrow, global civil society alliance CIVICUS calls on the government of President Edgar Lungu to guarantee the rights of all Zambians and refrain from shutting down the internet during and after the elections.
Scheduled for 12 August 2021, the elections take place in an environment of fear, threats of violence and intimidation as President Lungu seeks to extend his stay in office. Civil society organisations in Zambia are deeply concerned over ongoing restrictions on the freedom of expression and fear a recurrence of the violations of online freedoms similar to those experienced in the aftermath of the 2016 elections when the internet was shut down and private media platforms suspended.
“Zambians vote at a critical period when many in civil society and the political opposition raise concerns over the prevalence of corruption and the targeting of human rights defenders, journalists and the political opposition for expressing views contrary to those of the ruling party. President Lungu should refrain from targeting those who are not members of his party and guarantee the rights of all Zambians.” Said Paul Mulindwa, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS
The pre-elections period has been characterised by violence and the targeting of independent media outlets for hosting members of the political opposition. In February 2021, members of the ruling Patriotic Front Party attacked Liberty Community Radio in Mporokoso district and Luswepo Radio station in Mbala after they hosted Harry Kalaba of the Democratic Party. The targeting of media outlets has been accompanied by the promulgation of restrictive legislation including The Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act and Electronic Communications and Transactions Act which may also be used to target online freedoms during the elections.
Major concerns over an increase in violence during and after the elections have been exacerbated by limits imposed in the accreditation of election observers. The Electoral Commission also unexpectedly brought forward the deadline for election observers to fulfil a requirement to show evidence that they have been working on governance for three years and to provide certified copies of their national identification. In an atmosphere already characterised by fear and threats from security forces and supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front Party, the limits placed on election observers further exposes voters from the political opposition and civil society groups to the dictates of the state.
President Edgar Lungu of the Patriotic Front Party narrowly won the last presidential elections in 2016. The elections were characterised by violence and restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression. Over the last five years, President Lungu’s government has subjected human rights defenders and activists raising concerns over corruption and human rights violations to judicial persecution, detention, intimidation and harassment. The pre-elections period has been marred by violence and the army has been deployed by the authorities in different parts of Zambia. Restrictive requirements on elections observers including the necessity to provide evidence that they have been working on governance for three years limits the number of observers to monitor any restrictions during the elections.
Zambia is rated as “Obstructed” by the CIVICUS Monitor, our online platform that measures the state of civic freedoms in all countries.