Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission challenged to repeal Public Order Act

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Residents of the border town Chirundu have joined other petitioners from various districts calling on the Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission to repeal the Public Order Act and the Defamation of President Law in order to
accord citizens freedom of assembly and expression.

Nelson Simunji is one of the residents who complained about police brutality as a result of the existence of the Public Order Act and the Defamation of the President Laws that are contained in the Penal Code.

Mr Simunji told the Commission that the Defamation of the President clause contradicts the provisions of the Constitution in Article 20 hence should be abolished so that the citizens of Zambia can freely criticise their President without the fear of being arrested by law enforcement agencies.

He noted that citizens were being arrested for merely expressing their opinion on the President and other public figures.

The petitioner said the Defamation of the President Law should be completely abolished because it is a colonial law and has no place in the books of the country’s statutes.

Article 20 of the Zambian Constitution provides that except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions with interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to impart and communicate ideas and information without interference, whether the communication be to the public generally or to any person or class of persons and freedom from interference with his correspondence.

The Chairperson of the Commission stated that the Article on Defamation of the President does not criminalize criticism of the President but bring the name of the President into hate or disrepute is what the article provides as an offence.

He added that sometimes the laws are right but the application of the laws by the police is what makes laws seem to be bad, citing the case in which Father Frank Bwalya was arrested by police but later acquitted by the courts of law for allegedly defaming the President as one such example.

Mr Simunji also submitted that the Public Order Act be repealed to allow citizen to have freedom of assembly and noted that the police are biased in the application of the law as they favour the ruling party while members of the opposition political parties are brutalised
for assembling without a permit.

Another petitioner, Gilbert Makasa, submitted that government should
decentralise the office of the Legal Aid Board to various districts
so that members of the community who cannot afford to hire a lawyer
can be represented in courts of law.

Mr Makasa noted that services of the Legal Aid Board were lacking in Chirundu and many other districts in the country and further submitted that promotion amongst judicial officers especially justices should be on merit and not on nepotism as doing so was killing the judicial system of Zambia.

Chirundu district is one of the districts that were recently created by President Michael Sata in his quest to decentralise governance of the nation.

Chirundu town, the district headquarters of Chirundu District is at the border with Zimbabwe and is a key point on the Great North Road as it is the site of two of the five major rail bridges across the Zambezi River, the Chirundu Bridges.