The Johannesburg-based World Alliance for Citizen Participation (CIVICUS) has expressed serious concerns on what it says is the escalating campaign to silence independent dissent in Zambia. CIVICUS, a global movement of civil society dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world, has called on the Zambian government to take immediate steps to protect media and civil society freedoms.
A number of civil society organizations advocating for greater civic engagement in Zambia’s ongoing constitution-making process have recently been threatened with deregistration, the organisation said in a press statement, obtained by PANA here.
“Moreover, in an apparent attempt to suppress voices critical of President Michael Sata and the ruling Patriotic Front, several journalists and political activists have been arrested on various charges, including defamation of the President and operating unsanctioned media outlets,” the statement said.
CIVICUS noted that on 26 December, 2012, the Office of Registrar of Societies informed the Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP), a non-governmental organization established in 1992 to promote and strengthen democratic governance in Zambia, that their registration would be discontinued in 28 days.
It claimed that the letter, which was sent without prior notification, reportedly makes several unfounded allegations of organisational misconduct, including “pursuing objectives contrary to the objectives for which FODEP was formed” and “failing to furnish [the Office of Registrar of Societies] with such duly audited accounts”.
“The dissolution of a civil society organization should only be considered as a measure of last resort and subject to independent judicial oversight,' said Tor Hodenfield, Policy and Advocacy Officer at CIVICUS.
“We urge the Zambian government to reconsider its decision to deregister FODEP and hope the PF government will make good on its campaign promise to guarantee an enabling environment for civil society.”
Key among civil society concerns in Zambia is the existence on the statute books of a restrictive NGO law and whose application has been sporadic.
The 2009 NGO Act requires all NGOs to register and empowers the government to refuse registration on broad grounds.
The law also empowers government officials to dictate geographic and thematic areas of operation for NGOs and direct the harmonisation of NGO activities with officially dictated priorities, which impact upon the independence of the civil society sector.
CIVICUS called on the Zambian government to respect media freedoms and ensure an enabling environment for civil society in line with recommendations adopted during the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council on 30 October 2012.