17 May 2013

Zambia: Mass Crackdown As Police Arrest Subsidy Protesters

Photo: CDDR-zambia
Zambian police beat and teargas opposition protesters (file photo).

Today Zambian police detained hundreds of citizens, including university students and members of civil society organisations, who were protesting against the government's sudden removal of fuel and maize subsidies.

President Michael Sata has ordered the expulsion of all university students who participated in the anti-subsidy protests, while police fired teargas into the school's dormitories on the Great East Road campus.

The crackdown against protesters has been denounced by several NGOs. According to a statement released by Andrew Ntewewe of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), "the instruction to the police to arrest peaceful young persons demonstrating against his poor policies is dictatorship of the worst kind and ought to be roundly condemned by all well meaning Zambians."

The Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR), the organisation which formerly presented a complaint before the Commonwealth earlier this year, also released a statement condemning the arrests and announcing the preparation of a new report to the international community.

"It is absolutely unacceptable for this government to commit such blatant violations of basic civil rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly," said Robert Amsterdam, international counsel to CDDR. "As a signed party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Zambia is internationally bound to uphold these basic rights. The CDDR demands the immediate release of YALI members and other innocent civilians who participated in these peaceful protests."

According to eyewitness reports confirmed by CDDR, heavily armed police have surrounded the University of Zambia, firing teargas canisters in students' rooms and allegedly beating and arresting students. Some structures at the University have been set ablaze as police chase students around outside the campus. Witnesses inform CDDR that this morning President Michael Sata ordered the arrest and expulsion of students from all public universities around the country who have opposed the removal of subsidies on fuel products and maize meal. Hundreds of students are currently in detention, the witness states.

The PF government's decision to remove subsidies without warning or preparation has prompted food shortages and dire circumstances for many of Zambia's poorest citizens, while less than a year ago, President Sata gave himself and his cabinet a 100% pay increase and initiated construction of a retirement home. State House has claimed that subsidies had to be cut due to budget shortfalls, however protesters point to wasteful spending on unnecessary by-elections, a bloated cabinet of more than 70 officials, and a foreign-chaired tribunal aimed at helping wealthy businessmen avoid repaying debts to the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ).

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