Chapter One Foundation (COF) has called for the amendment of Criminal Defamation Laws in Zambia as they were reportedly detrimental to democracy and freedom of speech.
Organization Executive Director, Linda Kasonde, said since its inception, Chapter One Foundation had held the view that criminal defamation laws had no place in a democratic society.
Kasonde in a statement issued in Lusaka on Wednesday was reacting to the arrest of Socialist Party leader, Fred M’membe, over alleged case of libel.
“The recent arrest of Socialist Party leader Fred M’membe for the offence of libel follows a long history of successive government administrations using criminal defamation laws to silence critics and target political opponents,” she said.
Kasonde said the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code that criminalise defamation and impose a penalty of two years imprisonment, go against international best practices on the advancement of freedom of expression.
“In December 2022, government repealed the law on criminal defamation of the President under Section 69 of the Penal Code on the basis that citizens should be allowed to express dissent, even against the Republican President, in line with democratic norms,” she said.
Kasonde said Section 191 of the Penal Code, that criminalises defamation against persons other than the Republican President, imposed a penalty of two years imprisonment.
She said the continued application of ordinary criminal defamation under Section 191 of the Penal Code has a chilling effect; making people afraid of criticising government and those in power for fear of reprisal.
“Article 20 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Zambia guarantees every citizen the freedom to express themselves, to hold opinions, and to receive and share their ideas without interference,” Kasonde said.
She said this freedom can be limited by statutory laws in the interest of the public order, public morality, public safety, public health, and to protect the rights and reputations of other people.
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