The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) joins civil society groups in Zambia to call on the government to develop and adopt an inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach in enacting internet policies that will ensure that the people of Zambia have access to free and open Internet and their online rights are protected.
Over the past years, organisations such as MISAZambia, Bloggers of Zambia and the Zambia Centre for Social Development (ZCSD), have been pushing for the government of Zambia to open up the space to ensure that civil society groups and the general public are involved in the formulation and the drafting of the proposed cyber laws in the country.
Authorities in Zambia have put before parliament three cybercrime bills; the Cyber Security and Cybercrime Bill, Data Protection Bill and Electronic Commerce and Transaction Bill that aim to regulate the online/digital space in the country. Sadly, no civil society group or members of the general public were consulted during the process of formulating the bill.
Sections of the proposed bills have been criticised as repressive to freedom of expression rights. Going ahead to implement these laws without input from the general public will therefore, have serious repercussions for the enjoyment of freedom of expression online.
While AFEX acknowledges that online harassment and identity/data theft are legitimate threats that need to be controlled to guarantee citizens’ safety and security, we however believe that this important exercise should not be left in the hands of the government alone, without the involvement of other key stakeholders.
AFEX is seriously concerned that the formulation and passage of these laws without due consultation with the general public will pose a grave threat to freedom of expression online in Zambia.
Although the government has denied such claims and has assured the public that the objective of the bills is to protect citizens and the press online, recent actions by the president Lungu-led administration does not engender trust as a number of violations have been recorded in the country.
Over the past two years, the authorities have shut down mobile service in some regions that were very critical of president Lungu’s election, arrested journalists and individuals to for critical social media posts, closed down newspaper, radio, and TV outlets under the pretext of tax default or defamation charges.
Some African countries including Tanzania, Uganda, and Nigeria, have adopted similar vaguely worded laws which have been subsequently used to suppress freedom of the press and hinder freedom of expression.
AFEX continue to urge African governments to prioritise internet rights and freedoms of citizens in accordance with national, regional and international frameworks. We therefore demand that the government of Zambia render/make public the three proposed bills for scrutiny and review by the general public to ensure that they are rights-respecting.