24 January 2018

Zambia Denies Threats to Artist

Photo: Pilato
Musician Chama Fumba aka Pilato.

Lusaka — The imprisonment of a medical doctor for creating a fake social media account lampooning the president and persecution of an artist behind the release of material criticising President Edgar Lungu are latest demonstrations of the Zambia regime becoming increasingly tyrannical.

Award-winning satirical artist and hip hop musician, Fumba Chama, has fled the country to an unknown destination after alleged death threats from ruling Patriotic Front (PF) leaders enraged by his latest hit song condemning rampant corruption in the Southern African country.

In the song "Koswe Mumpoto" (rat in the pot), which supporters of Lungu said was an attack on the president and his cabinet, the musician who performs as Pilato, denounces leaders for behaving like rats that steal food and loot things that they do not need.

However, the Zambian High Commissioner to South Africa, Mr Emmanuel Mwamba vehemently dismissed the claims as "untrue", "baseless" and "unfounded".

In a telephone interview with CAJ News Africa, the high commissioner said no such threats were issued against Chama.

"There is no threat whatsoever being unleashed against the artist. There are no threats at all either from the government (Zambia), the ruling party or state security organs.

"The statement by Amnesty International is alarming! They (Amnesty International) are a credible organisation, as such they must always remain credible without allowing themselves to be compromised," Mr Mwamba told CAJ News Africa.

The Zambian high commissioner said he invited both the artist and Amnesty International to come to his office to discuss the matter, but they never pitched up. Instead, Amnesty International executives chose to travel to Zimbabwe, claimed Mwamba.

However, Amnesty International alleged a crackdown has trailed the release of the song in the album Man II Man which the star released in December with a defiant, "Come and Beat Me", to critics believed to be in government.

Authorities banned the song from air.

Rights groups reported police also denied Pilato permits to perform at several planned concerts in December while in venues where he was allowed to sing, police imposed conditions, including orders not to play any of his controversial songs.

It is not the first time the Ndola-born musician has incurred the wrath of politicians.

In 2011, through another satiric song, he lambasted some non-performing Zambian legislators as "Mental Patients."

Through another high-politically charged song that denounced the late President Michael Sata, Lungu's predecessor, as "a Father of Lies." He claimed receiving death threats from ruling party supporters.

He has also faced charges of "conduct likely to breach peace" and threats after a rendition of a popular 1970s hot song, which he remixed to lament the state of affairs in the country.

Rights groups denounced the persecution of the 33-year-old musician.

"The brazen determination by some in Zambia to silence dissenting views can only spell doom for the culture of robust engagement that the country has been known for," said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

Meanwhile, the group also denounced the jailing of a medical doctor, Kwalela Kafunya, for creating a fake Facebook account lampooning Lungu.

The Magistrates' Court in the western city of Mongu sentenced Kafunya to seven years imprisonment for "disturbing remarks and insults, and digitally altering the president's image."

Mwananyanda lamented the use of colonial-era legislation against critics.

"It is worrying that Zambian authorities are now also going after people who are using social media networks such as Facebook to express themselves," Mwananyanda said.

Critics have accused Lungu (61) of being dictatorial after assuming power following the death of Sata in 2014.

He was elected in 2015 in a presidential by-election and in the 2016 general poll.

Both polls were marred by allegations of vote rigging and heightened tensions with the opposition.

Lungu has also received criticism from within, with foreign minister Harry Kalaba quit government citing a lack of resolve to stop corruption.

Elias Chipimo, leader of the National Restoration Party (NAREP), said, "On a weekly basis, the Patriotic Front administration is being accused by its own rank and file of stealing from the public purse and doing everything within its means to rob the nation blind."

He added, "The response to each of these challenges by our so-called leaders has been to issue threats and blame someone else for the ills they have single-handedly caused to the people."

On Tuesday, suspected PF supporters attacked members of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) in Lusaka amid heightening tensions.

Last week, members of the Zambia Air Force allegedly assaulted journalist, Michael Miyoba, who was caught up in the running battles between the airmen and the vendors that are resisting a crackdown to leave the streets of the capital. It is one of interventions to address the cholera outbreak that has claimed scores in recent weeks.

"We are dismayed that the Daily Nation reporter could be physically attacked by the officers on suspicion that he had taken pictures. This makes sad reading," said Hellen Mwale, MISA Zambia Chairperson

Haikande Hichilema, the losing candidate in both elections against Lungu, said, "Our country needs issue-based politics and not intimidation by those who claim to be in charge of our nation."

Speaking in Lusaka this week, Lungu threatened to sack corrupt and incompetent ministers.

"The buck stops at me. Before I am fired I have to fire those that are not working," the president said.

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