On Saturday, 21 December 2019, Fumba Chama, popularly known Pilato, a Zambian human rights defender and musician, was arrested for unlawful assembly in violation of the Public Order Act apparently due to his hosting of a youth forum which aimed to raise awareness about governance, corruption and civic responsibility. Upon hearing the news of Pilato’s arrest, fellow HRDs, Laura Miti and Bornwell Mwewa, from the Alliance for Community Action (ACA), travelled from Lusaka to Livingstone to visit Pilato and to obtain information from the Zambian Police on the reasons for his arrest. On arrival at the police station, Laura Miti was accused of using her cell phone to document footage of the police and her phone was forcibly removed from her. She made immediate enquiries as to why her phone was removed and the police proceeded to arrest and charge her for assault on a police officer and disorderly conduct. Bornwell Mwewa was present and witnessed the situation and proceeded to question why Miti was being arrested. This resulted in him also being arrested and charged with assault of a police officer and disorderly conduct.
All three HRD’s were brought to court on Monday, 23 December 2019 for a hearing before a magistrate and released on bond. On Monday 13 January 2020, Miti and Mwewa appeared in court where several police witnesses gave testimony. The matter has now been adjourned to 12-13 February. The State has indicated that Pilato will appear before the magistrate on 10 February, despite the fact that he has not been formally charged.
We are deeply concerned that Zambian police are harassing civil society actors who are conducting legitimate civic activities. There does not appear to be sufficient evidence to secure convictions of all three HRDs on the current charges. Further, these actions speak to the ongoing threats to civic space and continued violations of the right to freedom of expression and association, both in Zambia and in the Southern Africa region. The Zambian authorities continue to display their disregard for the rights of persons protected under the Zambian Constitution.
We recall and reaffirm the Contonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa which calls on states to “Adopt effective measures to prevent violations of the rights of HRDs and, where necessary, address the harm suffered by the activists and refrain from criminalizing or taking other adverse actions against these rights defenders, including reprisals and restrictions.” The Zambian government needs to address the harm caused to these human rights defenders through their baseless detention and unjustified charges.
We call on the Zambian government to urgently intervene and to withdraw the arbitrary charges against these human rights defenders. We further call on the international community to be vigilant of the ongoing human rights violations in Zambia. These actions point to a State which is failing to respect individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
JOINTLY ISSUED BY THE SOUTHERN AFRICA LITIGATION CENTRE AND AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL