By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network
NEW YORK (IDN) — Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema recently announced on his Facebook page that he officially abolished both the death penalty and the offence of criminal defamation of the president.
The Penal Code of 2022 repeals the mandatory death sentence in the absence of extenuating circumstances. The provisions of Section 69, which pertain to criminal defamation of the president, have also been repealed.
President Hichilema emphasized that these changes align with campaign promises to amend laws that inhibit the growth of democracy, good governance and human rights.
But his accomplishments were met by furious opposition from Zambian activists, including Isaac Mwanza. “It is too early to celebrate,” Mwanza said, “because the constitution still allows for Police to arrest any person or opponents ‘defaming’ the President”.
“Criminal defamation still exists on Zambia’s statute books,” noted Linda Kasonde, executive director of the Chapter One Foundation, an organization that promotes social justice, human rights and rights defenders.
“Defaming the president is still punishable with a maximum of two years imprisonment or a fine or both,” she pointed out. “This shows that there is still work to be done to promote freedom of expression in Zambia.”
Opposition members also took issue with the signing of a Security Cooperation Agreement with the US that establishes a US Defense Dept. Command (also known as AFRICOM) in the capital, Lusaka. Critics argued that the move would effectively set the ground for the advancement of US military interests in Africa.
Defence Minister Ambrose Lufuma denied that Zambia would host an AFRICOM cooperation office and threatened “dire consequences” for spreading what he termed “misinformation”. His argument was countered by opposition leader Sean Tembo, arguing that “no one should gag or threaten the people. Let the people talk”. Zimbabwean opposition leader Linda Masarira also strongly opposed a Zambian base for AFRICOM, calling it a direct threat to her country’s territorial integrity.
“In all honesty (former Zambian president) Kenneth Kaunda should be turning in his grave to see this happening now,” she said. “What Hichilema is doing is a betrayal of fellow African countries and is creating a room for proxy wars that ravaged Middle North Africa and the Middle East countries like Libya and Syria.”
America already has a significant military presence on the continent. According to the Institute for Security Studies, 13 foreign countries now have a known military presence in Africa, mostly concentrated in the Horn, where they maintain 11 military bases.
This new agreement has the potential to cause instability in the region and goes against the positions of both the Southern African Development Community and the African Union, critics said.
While Kasonde commended the president for abolishing the death penalty, she pointed out that 195 countries in the world already bar the death penalty, and only 55 actively support it.
Zambia, in this case, was merely catching up with global trends, said Kasonde, because “it is widely recognized as being an unjustifiable violation of the right to life, the right to human dignity, and the protection against cruel and degrading treatment”.
“As Mahatma Gandhi once said, an eye for an eye will just lead to more blindness in the world. No study has conclusively established that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to committing capital offences (offences that lead to the death penalty).” [IDN-InDepthNews — 27 December 2022]
Photo: A photo shared on Twitter by the US Embassy in Zambia on April 27 shows Zambia’s President Hakainde Hichilema flanked by Brigadier General Peter Bailey (R) and US Embassy Zambia Chargé d’Affaires Martin Dale. The US Embassy was announcing its Africa Command had established an Office of Strategic Cooperation in Zambia. Credit: US Embassy in Zambia.
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