Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Stakeholders express divergent views on the abolishment of the death penalty and the offense of criminal defamation of the President

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Political stakeholders have expressed divergent views on the recent pronouncement by President Hakainde Hichilema, on the abolishment of the death penalty and the offense of criminal defamation of the President.

In alignment with campaign promises to amend laws that inhibit the growth of democracy, good governance, and human rights, President Hakainde Hichilema announced last week that he has abolished the death penalty and the offense of criminal defamation of the President.

“The Penal Code (Amendment) Bill number 25 of 2022, which was assented to by the President, repeals all provisions in the Penal Code Act that provided for the mandatory death sentence in the absence of extenuating circumstances. The provisions of Section 69, which pertain to criminal defamation of the President, have also been repealed,” President Hichilema announced

The New Heritage Party President Chishala Kateka has applauded President Hakainde Hichilema for the repealing of provisions of Section 69 of the penal code, which pertain to criminal defamation of the President, adding that the piece of legislation was an impediment to the growth of democracy, good governance, and human rights as the antiquated 1965 law carried a punishment of up to three years in prison for insults against the President and was used by successive governments to silence critics.

Ms Kateka added that in light of the rampant abuse of related laws such as the Public Order Act by Police and other arms of government, their Party is concerned that the existing law still presents a window which could be used against opponents of the government or any other person who might use defamatory remarks against the President based on provisions of Chapter 18 of the Penal Code.

She has however noted that the repeal of the law on defamation of the President from the Penal Code is incomplete unless President Hichilema and his administration proceeds to further repeal the entire Chapter 18, inclusive of Chapter 8, of the Penal Code which maintains criminal defamation on the statutes.

“With this glaring anomaly, the New Heritage Party feels it is too early to celebrate the repeal of Section 69 of the Penal Code as a victory for democracy without addressing the other pieces of legislation those in authority can still be used to harass critics of the President,” Ms Kateka said

And Governance Activist Isaac Mwanza disclosed that the repeal of law on defamation of the President from the Penal Code by Parliament is a job half done for President Hichilema’s administration for which he must be commended but the President must be encouraged to do more.

Mr Mwanza further disclosed that the repeal of Section 69 of the Penal Code will not significantly change Zambia’s democratic landscape unless President Hichilema and his administration proceeds to further repeal the entire Chapter 18, inclusive of Chapter 8, of the Penal Code which maintains criminal defamation on the statutes.

He observed that the repealed Section 69 was solely used for convenience by the Zambia Police in charging persons that issue defamatory remarks against the President because the Police will still be arresting any person or opponents or issue similar remarks charging anybody with criminal defamation of the President based on provisions of Chapter 18 of the Penal Code.

Meanwhile, the controversial political party leader Sean Tembo of the Patriots for Economic Progress (PeP) has raised doubts about the sincerity of President Hichilema’s decision to repeal the law on criminal defamation of the President.

Mr Tembo argued that the repeal of the defamation law and the proposed amendment to the Public Order Act will actually give President Hichilema more scope to restrict the liberties and freedoms of the Zambian people, explaining that these repressive laws have been in place for a long time and have been abused by successive regimes to target political opponents and as a result, they have been thoroughly litigated and their implications are well understood, hence, by repealing these laws the President will be able to use less well-known laws, or even executive orders, to suppress dissent and criticism.

Mr Tembo argued that the root cause of the suppression of freedom of expression in Zambia is the regime’s appetite for using the law to stifle its citizens’ liberties and freedoms, unless this appetite is addressed, he added that the repeal of any particular law will be largely symbolic and will not result in a meaningful improvement of democracy in the country.

Mr Tembo has since called on the President to announce the repeal of his regime’s appetite to use lawfare to suppress the liberties and freedoms of citizens.

The Patriotic Front (PF) aspiring presidential candidate Brian Mundubile mentioned that the death penalty will remain on the statute books despite the Government’s amendment of the Penal Code to abolish Capital Punishment, adding that the death penalty falls under Part Three (III) of the Constitution, which is the Bill of Rights.

“Yes, some other enabling legislation like the Penal Code could be amended but that does not mean that it is no longer on our statute book. So maybe to put it in layman’s language, the UPND Government took a shortcut in trying to blind off that particular provision of the law. But what the proper procedure would be is a push for a referendum such that when there are amendments to Part III of our Constitution as required by Article 79 of our Constitution, then appropriate amendments can be made,” Mr Mundubile said

And Chapter One Foundation Executive Director Linda Kasonde said that the ordinary crime of criminal defamation under Part III of the Penal Code still exists on Zambia’s statute books, adding that the offence is punishable with a maximum of two years imprisonment or a fine or both.

On the abolishment of the death penalty, Ms Kasonde said that there are 195 countries in the world and only 55 actively implement the death penalty, citing that subsequently, this move is in line with global trends to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty is widely recognised as being an unjustifiable violation of the right to life, the right to human dignity, and the protection against cruel and degrading treatment.

“Regarding the abolishment of the crime of defamation of the President under section 69 of the Penal Code, this is a welcome move as I believe that this offence was an unjustifiable limitation on the right to freedom of expression in a modern democracy such as we have in Zambia,” Ms Kasonde said

And the Centre for Policy Dialogue has commended President Hakainde Hichilema for repealing the Defamation of the President Law.

CPD Executive Director Caroline Katotobwe cited that the President following through with his campaign promise to repeal a law that has limited free speech for so long shows his commitment to freedom of expression and democracy.

“As stakeholders we are elated that this repressive law is finally done away with.Thus, allowing citizens to freely express their views without fear of prosecution as was the case in the past. This actions gives hope that similar retrogressive laws will be repealed and replaced by more progressive laws for the betterment of the people of Zambia,” Ms Katotobwe said

3 COMMENTS

  1. No one gives a fark about a law that has never been used for over 5 decades. Let hh fulfil the big promises he made. Not these nonsense. Fuseke

  2. Useless Politicians,,,,instead of fighting to improve the lives of suffering Zambians they’re busy blah blah about the Law…i cant stand Politicians all useless,,,,ZAMBIANS WANT 3 DECENT MEALS A DAY, GOOD ROAD NETWORK, GOOD HEALTHCARE stop this nonsense of diverting attention

  3. Death penalty is well established in the bible. So it’s hard for me to understand how a person claiming to be a Christian can oppose and abolish it. Just saying

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