Opposition and civil society groups accuse the Zambian police of bias and violating the constitution after clamping down on their rights to free speech and assembly as stipulated in the bill of rights.
The groups said the police often use the controversial Public Order Act to suppress their meetings and their planned demonstrations against unfavorable government policies.
They also said the police are to blame for the ongoing inter-party violence because of the preferential treatment they give governing Patriotic Party (PF) supporters.
But the Zambia police say the Public Order Act underscores the importance of groups and political parties coordinating their planned activities with the police to ensure there is peace and stability. The law, police also say, regulates the holding of public processions or demonstrations.
Charity Chanda, spokesperson for the Zambia police, highlights the benefits of the Public Order Act. (Photo courtesy of Charity Chanda)
Charity Chanda, spokesperson for the police, says groups that plan to protest must notify the police at least 7 business days in advance.
"People don't really understand the provisions of the Public Order Act,” she said. “This law is actually very good when well followed and observed. ... You will find that there are some political parties that would not give the necessary notification period. … You find that at times they will notify you two days before the day.
"As Zambia police, we are also ready to apprehend and take to court all the perpetrators of violence. We are not just concentrating on political violence but also any forms of violence," Chanda said.
Priests weigh in
Chanda's comments came after the Catholic Bishops Conference called on the police to be impartial and to rise above partisan politics ahead of presidential, parliamentary and local elections.
In an episcopal letter about the state of the nation, the priests said the enforcement of the Public Order Act has often been selective.
Opposition parties say the priests' letter bolsters their stance that the police do the bidding of the PF by stifling their meetings.
"Yes, we are aware that those concerns have come through, but to tell you the truth, as Zambian police we try to be as professional as possible," Chanda said. "When we joined the police, we were recruited as Zambians that are ready to serve the interest of the country, not the interest of any political party, and this is what people have to understand.
"It's unfortunate that they are lining us up with certain parties, but as far as we are concerned, we are not partisan,” she said. “We are civil servants and our interest is to serve the people of Zambia, [to protect] their lives as well as their property."