Three prominent human rights defenders are spending their 3rd day in police custody with no release in sight. The three activists have been at the forefront of calls for transparency and accountability in the spending of State resources. Their arrest and continued detention is a repressive response by the State to increasing demands for accountability and transparency by the citizenry.
On Saturday 21 December 2019, musician and poet Fumba Chama, known as pilAto, was arrested by police following a peaceful meeting where he addressed scores of youths in a church in Livingstone's Libuyu township. The #BeHeardZambia Youth Insaka sought to educate the youth about their rights, including their right to hold elected officials accountable. While the police initially allowed the meeting to continue, pilAto was subsequently arrested during the meeting and charged with unlawful assembly.
Two fellow human rights defenders, Laura Miti and Bornwell Mwewa were detained by the Livingstone police on Saturday evening after they tried to negotiate Chama's release. Laura Miti and Bornwell Mwewa were charged with allegedly assaulting a female and male police officer respectively. Following her arrest, Laura Miti suffered an acute asthma attack and was taken to hospital under heavy police guard.
All three activists remain in police custody after warn and caution statements were administered on 23 December 2019 and have been denied police bail.
Over the past few years, we have seen an escalation in the number of arrests of human rights defenders and opposition leaders in Zambia simply for calling for increased transparency and accountability by the President and the State. We are particularly concerned that the persecution and harassment of human rights defenders by the police appears to have become systemic.
We call on the Zambian government to intervene to withdraw the arbitrary charges against these human rights defenders and ensure their release.
We further call on the international community to pay vigilant attention to the developments in Zambia, which are indicative of a State which shows scant regard for citizens' rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
ISSUED BY THE SOUTHERN AFRICA LITIGATION CENTRE