The leaders of the Church Mother bodies namely the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ), and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) have called on President Edgar Lungu not to sign the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Bill of 2021 into law.
In a statement released to the media addressing a number of issues patterning to the coming general elections, the church mother bodies said that although the overall objectives of the bill are noble, they are are concerned that this being an election year, when the atmosphere is politically charged, a number of stakeholders will be suspicious of the intentions of government and the possible abuse of the rights for those who already feel oppressed.
The statement further said that the Church mother body is equally aware that many Zambians and organisations, such as the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), political parties, and a number of CSOs have raised oncerns about this bill and demanded that it be withdrawn for further consultations.
The statement further added that the Parliamentary Committee that considered the bill also recommended its withdrawal and ss such, people are asking as to why the House
moved on without taking into account the concerns of all key stakeholders.
“Therefore, we appeal to the conscience of the President not to sign the bill into law,” the statement read.
Below is the full statement
STATEMENT BY THE THREE CHURCH MOTHER BODIES ON THE ELECTORAL PROCESS IN ZAMBIA
“A call for free, fair, credible and peaceful elections”
“Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to Yahweh your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion …” (Joel 2:13)
We, the leaders of the Church Mother bodies namely the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), greet you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We acknowledge the efforts that have been made by government, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) and non-state actors, including private citizens, in preparing for the holding of the 12 th August 2021 elections in Zambia; We take note of the difficulties that the country is going through, economically and socially, worsened by the debt burden as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on people’s daily lives;
We are aware that a good number of stakeholders are not satisfied with what is going on in the country; economically, politically and socially.
Having read and interpreted the signs of our time in these difficult days, we wish to once again share with you, our anxieties on the state of the nation as well as the hope and faith we have together in God. We pray that the Lord may guide us in overcoming the challenges that we face as a country.
As we move towards the August elections, there are issues currently affecting the country and others that may affect the credibility of the 2021 elections in August. We therefore wish to bring the following to the attention of the nation and call upon every Zambian to take every step possible to promote peace before, during and after elections.
2.0. 2021 Electoral Challenges
2.1. Politically Motivated Violence
We appreciate the concerns the Republican President raised during his Address to Parliament on 12 th February 2021 concerning politically motivated violence. He indicated that one of the root causes is the polarisation of the Zambian society according to regional and ethnic lines, promoted by politicians. The President requested all of us to condemn violence and tribalism. We are further aware that political violence is often committed by cadres belonging to the ruling party and also by cadres belonging to the opposition in the name of self-defense. Unfortunately, violence has sometimes been committed by the Zambia police, who are supposed to protect citizens and instead use lethal weapons leading to loss of lives. Regrettably, despite the available video evidence of well-known people who engage in acts of violence and utter sentiments of tribalism/regionalism, no action has been taken. Decisive action against any person engaging in electoral related violence must be reported to the ECZ for appropriate electoral sanctions and the police for criminal charges. At the same time, we strongly appeal to political leaders to prevail over their members and ensure that they engage in peaceful campaigns. This way, impunity will be curbed and violence related to the electoral process will be minimized.
2.2. Mobile Issuance of NRCs
While we commend the government for carrying out mobile issuance of National Registration Cards (NRCs), we are aware that the exercise did not provide equal opportunities to all the Zambians that needed the cards. We raised this issue with the Ministry of Home Affairs but no action was taken to improve the situation. In our view, all NRC registration centres are supposed to be so well equipped and staffed that mobile issuance of NRCs every five years would not be necessary. Zambians who turn of age or lose their NRCs should be able to walk to these centres and obtain theirs cards without problems. If by chance a mobile issuance is done, monitoring of the exercise should be allowed.
2.3. Mobile Voter Registration
We are aware that this exercise got off to a controversial start, because there was no consensus among key stakeholders as to whether to discard the old register and create a completely new register or to just update the 2006 one. Secondly, the period that was given for this exercise was clearly not enough and so many potential voters could not manage to register. Furthermore, we noted with concern that mobile registration was used instead of stationing officers in every polling district as was done in 2006. While we appreciate the work the ECZ
has done so far in having the current register, we are of the considered view that there was room for improvement in terms of capturing more voters if proposals for a longer extension in the registration period as well as the deployment of extra staff and more registration kits were adhered to.
2.4.Current Voter Register
We are grateful to the ECZ for releasing the provisional register which gives us an indication of the number of voters that have been captured. We have noted the obvious differences of the numbers between the provinces whose NRC issuance was restricted and those who had a longer period of obtaining their cards as well as those who experienced challenges during the registration of voters. We wish to inform the nation that we are currently studying the provisional register and analysing the data and will share our findings in due course. We are doing this because the Voter’s Roll is a very important document that determines the credibility of any election.
2.5. Public Order Act and Rule of Law
To protect the lives of people and their property, the country needs law and order. In this regard, any law that protects the people’s right to assemble and associate without breaking the rights of others is necessary. However, Zambia has experienced a situation where the Public Order Act (POA) has continued to be applied selectively to curtail the ability of opposition political parties to mobilise and publicize their manifestos and to shut up other players with contrary views from those of government and the party in power.
We appreciate the Republican President’s commitment and promise he made during the last Parliamentary Address on 12 th February 2021, to guarantee law and order before, during and after elections. By so doing, he acknowledged the fact that there is a problem on this matter. We hopefully await to see the concrete measures the President and his government will take to ensure that this is achieved.
We know that the burden of ensuring that law and order is observed in the country lies on all the people of Zambia, but the police carry a special mandate to enforce law and order where society fails to voluntarily regulate itself. Given the diverse interests there is in Zambia, especially during elections, the police service has to stand firm and remain impartial at all times, if it has to win the confidence and trust of the people.
We take this opportunity to remind the nation that the aim of rule of law is to limit and check the arbitrary, oppressive, and despotic tendencies of those in power, and to ensure equal treatment and protection of all citizens irrespective of race, tribe, class, status, religion, place of origin, or political persuasion. It means having a legal framework that is fair, impartial, particularly in regard to human rights, public security and safety. Authority is legitimate if there is an established legal and institutional framework, and if decisions are taken in accordance with the accepted institutional criteria, processes, and procedures. 1 The perception that law enforcement agents had been biased and only favouring individuals from the ruling party, is now a reality that is making non ruling party members take the law into their own hands. This is equally not right.
Incidents where police stand by and watch members of the ruling party destroying property belonging to citizens is dangerous because it has the potential to erode the reduced confidence people have in police protection.
2.6. Performance of the Media
Closely linked to the freedom of expression is press freedom. The media provides a platform for people to air their views and opinions, a right which is also provided for by the Zambian Constitution. However, the law also contains some provisions that the Government can use to restrict this freedom. Two of Zambia’s four most widely circulated newspapers are public media, i.e. published by Government. Public media also includes radio and television stations financed from public resources. However, the public media has failed to fairly provide a platform for all Zambians, regardless of their political affiliation, to air their views and express their opinions on them. According to Panos Institute of Southern Africa (PSAf) and MISA, coverage by these media houses has not been fair as they consistently fail to educate and inform citizens in an objective, balanced, and clear way. 2 On the other hand, we also strongly urge the private media to be balanced and factual in the presentation of information to the public.
The cracking down of the private independent media that took place before and after the elections in 2016 sent a clear message to all private media that criticizing Government decisions and actions could put them in trouble. The once vibrant Post Newspaper, on 24 th April 2017 had its property, which included printing press, radio equipment, trucks, and other vehicles, auctioned despite the case still being heard in the High Court. In addition, some journalists from private stations that broadcast call-in and other talk show programs on which diverse and critical viewpoints were expressed freely, received threats from senior government and ruling party officials and politicians. MUVI TV and Komboni radio were temporarily shut down just after the 2011 elections. Prime TV, has become the latest private media house to be closed down and there seem to be no hope it will ever be broadcasting again. All these actions are a direct attack on the freedom of expression that Zambians are entitled to enjoy.
If there are administrative issues where media houses are found wanting, these should be dealt with in a fair and just manner and all media houses should be treated in the same way when found not compliant with statutory obligations.
Furthermore, the President during his Address to Parliament on 12 th February 2021, indicated that his government recognises the importance of the Media and to show this, a media policy was launched in November 2020. The policy aims at promoting freedom of expression and guarantees press freedom. The said policy is also anchored on media freedom, media pluralism, media independence and safety of journalists. On the other hand, media houses have continued to be harassed and closed while some of the radio stations continue to be attacked by political cadres who are intolerant of divergent views. Once more, we await to see the concrete measures that will be taken to guarantee media freedoms during the forthcoming elections.
We also hereby appeal to the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to show that they are truly independent, effective and act in a manner that is fair and protective of all the media.
Above all, we wish to appeal to all media houses to exercise journalism for peace. This means avoiding sensational journalism and always aspiring to be truthful, fair and ethical in their reporting.
2.7. Shrinking Democratic Space
The civic and political space that Zambians possess under the constitution is a hard-won product of anti-colonial struggle, and has been key to the progress made since then towards overcoming poverty and exclusion in our country. We are disheartened to see the country moving backwards by using the same exclusion political strategies that the colonialists used such as the POA, restriction in the use of the public media, use of violence and arbitrary arrest to scare political opponents and members of the public. In addition to this, media platform restriction has now extended to social media as government has taken to parliament the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Bill of 2021. We are aware that this has passed the third reading and is awaiting the assent of the President.
Though the overall objectives of the bill are noble, we are concerned that this being an election year, when the atmosphere is politically charged, a number of stakeholders will be suspicious of the intentions of government and the possible abuse of the rights for those who already feel oppressed.
We are equally aware that many Zambians and organisations, such as the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ), political parties and a number of CSOs have raised
concerns about this bill and demanded that it be withdrawn for further consultations. The Parliamentary Committee that considered the bill also recommended its withdrawal. As such, people are asking as to why the House moved on without taking into account the concerns of all key stakeholders? Therefore, we appeal to the conscience of the President not to sign the bill into law.
2.8.Elections Amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic
We are aware, as your church leaders that the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing great fear and grief to our people, including the majority of our believers. Some are asking, “Where is God in all this?” Others are asking, “Why has God allowed us to suffer so much, literally disrupting our normal life?”
Well, as your pastors and shepherds, we encourage you to seek and find God in this time of crisis. God in his mercy has intervened before in such occasions as these, and God will intervene again. We draw your attention to the story of Jesus calming the storm in Mark 4:35-41. When the boat in which Jesus and his disciples were was rocked by the storm and it was about to sink, the disciples exclaimed, “Master don’t you care that we are about to die?” Jesus commanded the storm to stop and calmed the anxieties of the disciples.
In times such as these, we are called to have strong faith in God.
As we move closer to the August 12 elections, we call upon all stakeholders to religiously abide by the public health regulations in order to safeguard the lives of the people. In addition, we urge those in authority not to use the observance of COVID-19 protocols to stifle the efforts of those seeking to be elected, especially those in opposition. A level playing field must be created in order to avoid a disputed election even before we cast a vote.
3.0. An Appeal to the Church and the Clergy
The Church plays a critical role in advocating for social justice, stewardship of national resources and good governance in the country. We call upon the clergy to continue preaching peace, unity and tolerance before, during and after the elections. Remember that if we want peace, we must work for justice.
As a conscience of the nation, the Church must be non-partisan and avoid receiving gifts that have the potential to make it lose its prophetic voice. In the run up towards the elections, the Church remains committed to play a reconciliatory and peacebuilding role.
Zambians desire to hold free, fair, credible and peaceful 2021 elections. The President in his recent address to parliament said, “I, therefore, call upon every Zambian, every political party and player, the church and the civil society to join me in assuring our people of peace and unity before, during and after the 2021 general elections. We are one Zambia, and indeed we are one nation” (President Speech #168). We welcome the above-mentioned call. In addition, we call upon government and all stakeholders in the nation to take concrete steps and actions that are necessary to restore confidence in the electoral processes and rule of law.
Moving forward, the Church remains committed to engaging with the Republican President, relevant government ministries and institutions, leaders of political parties, ECZ, Zambia Police, the Media, traditional leaders, other faith leaders and CSOs in a meaningful dialogue that will yield results, so that we guarantee for our people, free, fair, credible and peaceful elections.
Once more, we reiterate the call to conversion of heart we find in Joel 2:13 – “Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn, turn to Yahweh your God again, for he is all tenderness and compassion …” On its part, the Church has set its eyes on its desire for a conversion of hearts and minds, leading to a united, reconciled and peaceful Zambia where all citizens freely participate in governance within a thriving social and economic environment. This will continue to guide all dialogue processes and engagements that the Church will carry out, now and in the future.
Issued to the Press on 19 th March 2021 – LUSAKA.
Bishop Sauros Phaika
Bishop Paul Mususu
Bishop George C. Z. Lungu
This content was originally published here.