The head of the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has called on political parties to urge supporters to refrain from politically motivated violence in the run-up to next year’s election.
The call follows recent clashes between supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front and the main opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), in which dozens of people were injured. Other opposition and civil society groups also accused police of using excessive force to stop their meetings as they prepare for the 2016 poll.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia has yet to officially declare the beginning of campaigns ahead of the election, but political parties have started mobilizing their supporters nationwide.
George Chisanga, the law association’s chairman, said party leaders call meetings around the country to keep in touch with members, "and it is in these meetings that sometimes members of the opposing political parties clash."
Political violence "takes away from the needs to have credible, free and fair elections next year," he said.
But Chisanga also said police must be impartial in carrying out their mandate to maintain law and order.
"The police seem to be of the disposition that they have the responsibility of allowing or not allowing people to convene to exercise the freedom of expression as is provided for in the constitution," he said. "… Police always feel that they have a duty to do a favor to the party in government and create a very uneven campaign platform to the political parties, depending on whether you are in opposition or in government."
Use of tear gas condemned
The association has condemned the police for using tear gas to disperse a small group of Movement for Multiparty Democracy opposition supporters meeting last week. Police used unnecessary force to prevent the opposition supporters from exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, the association said.
Police said the opposition party failed to get a permit for the party’s activity.
Chisanga disagreed, saying the police explanation contravenes the constitution.
"That is not what is required under the law,” he said. “First, you don’t need a permit to meet in a scenario where these people were meeting just to mobilize themselves. And secondly, it is not a requirement of the police to deny you a permit. The police should just receive a notification, and allow you to go ahead with their freedom of expression."
Chisanga said the law association and other stakeholders, including civil society organizations, have demanded to meet immediately with police to remind them "their responsibility is to enable people to enjoy the freedoms under the constitution, and not to prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights."
He said stakeholders "want to go on a campaign to remind the people of Zambia" of constitutional rights, including the freedoms of assembly and of expression.