May 9, 2002

Police slammed in new human rights report

Zambia's human rights record has been slammed in a new report by a local human rights NGO, with the police coming in for particular criticism. Afronet executive director Ngande Mwanajiti told IRIN their newly released report, entitled 'Zambia Human Rights 2001', found abuses in freedom of association, freedom of expression and misconduct over the organisation of last year's election. It also alleged there was a pattern of political assassinations, and documented grave human rights abuses by the police.

The report, which covers the period between January and December 2001, documented at least 20 cases of individuals who had been shot by police or of people dying in suspicious circumstances in police custody. It focused on the government's rejection of the recommendations of a commission into torture by Judge Japhet Banda that was critical of the police. Banda had investigated allegations of the torture of soldiers arrested after a failed coup attempt in 1997. He recommended compensation for victims and that senior police officers retire. The government of then president Frederick Chiluba rejected both suggestions.

Mwanajiti said the fact that those implicated remained in public office made it difficult to eliminate police brutality. "We are also alarmed at the pattern of political assassinations. Last year Paul Tembo was shot dead in the early hours of the day he was due to testify in a misappropriation case which had already found one cabinet minister and two other people guilty," Mwanajiti said. Tembo was a former campaign manager for Chiluba but had defected to the opposition Forum for Democracy and Development shortly before his death. "Zambians also want to reduce the powers of the president," he said. The current president [Levy Mwanawasa] is the Minister of Defence and the Commander in Chief of all the armed forced making him the boss of all government departments that control law and order."

Freedom of expression and the media was a perennial problem, Mwanajiti added. Despite a lively independent press, the government tried to cripple the private media by not advertising in their publications and keeping taxes high. The reported also cited lack of access to the media during December's general election. "Though the government keeps saying it is committed to improving the situation of the media it seems reluctant to introduce an Information Act which will guarantee access to information. At the moment draconian rules and regulations make it difficult for journalists to operate. Currently they are demoted or threatened if they don't toe the party line," the Afronet director alleged.

The report slated the 2001 election which brought Mwanawasa to power. "The Zambian Electoral Commission was extremely hostile to civic organisations. One of the main concerns was that at least 200,000 people were excluded because they didn't have the green citizenship card required to register to vote," said Mwanajiti. The European Union and the Carter Centre also condemned the 27 December election as flawed. "We are going to use the report to challenge the new government to respond to issues," Mwanajiti said. (IRIN)

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