Zambian woman arrested for defaming the president
A Zambian woman has been dragged to the courts facing charges of defaming the president, the latest sign that the new administration has not made a break with the past in terms of freedom of expression.
The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation reported that Saliya Laisha was facing a charge of defamation. She was charged for contravening Section 69 of the Penal Code.
Laisha is reported to have said President Hikainde Hichilema had sacrificed six Seventh Day Adventist youths who died in the Kariba Dam in January. She is accused of saying the president had been failing to do his job and the sacrifice was going to improve his performance as the country’s leader.
With this statement, the prosecution alleges, Laisha had intent to bring the president into ridicule, contempt and hatred.
If convicted, Laisha could serve up to three years in prison.
MISA is worried that Zambia continues to hold onto archaic laws such as criminal defamation and use these to prosecute citizens.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 2013 in the matter of Konaté v Burkina Faso, ruled that imprisonment for defamation violates the right to freedom of expression.
Since then, criminal defamation has been declared unconstitutional in Zimbabwe and Lesotho, among other countries.
It is, therefore, disconcerting that President Hichilema, who promised to reform the freedom of expression environment when he was elected, still holds onto undemocratic laws such as criminal defamation, which are a relic of the past administration.
We call on the authorities in Zambia to immediately drop the charges against Laisha and begin a process of repealing Section 69 of Penal Code Chapter 87 of the laws of Zambia.
Zambia has the perfect opportunity to make a clean break from the past and to do so they need to begin by repealing archaic laws that infringe on freedom of expression.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1992. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.
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