ZAMBIA'S OPPOSITION LEADERS have lately been trooping to police stations and courts to answer what they believe are trumped-up charges. Their parties have been denied permission to hold rallies and they have accused the government of engaging in what they claim is a well-orchestrated scheme to paralyse the opposition.
According to Cornelius Mweetwa, legislator and deputy spokesperson of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), his party has had 10 applications to hold rallies turned down by the police since the PF came to power in September 2011.
At the centre of controversy is a law that was enacted in colonial times called the Public Order Act. The colonialists used it to suppress the freedoms of Africans. They may have long gone, yet this law has somehow survived the times and maintained its notoriety.
It states that convenors of public gatherings should notify the police of their intention to assemble seven days before the event, by stating the venue and the names of speakers. While this law has always been in place, it has in recent times acquired a certain prominence, albeit for the wrong reasons.
The police have been accused of bias against the opposition in their application of the law. The bone of contention is that while the law only requires convenors to notify the police, the police have seemingly assumed their role is to grant permission. This is despite the Supreme Court setting the precedence to the contrary in two previous cases that have challenged this understanding by the police. There are also questions being asked as to why it is only the opposition having difficulties in holding meetings, while members of the ruling party take to the street whenever they like without police approval.
The irony is that while in opposition, the PF was known for holding rallies throughout. The opposition is now questioning why the PF is "so scared of us holding rallies to engage the people on various national issues," says Hakainde Hichilema, leader of the UPND, who has been arrested three times in the last six months.
Like his UPND counterpart, Nevers Mumba, leader of the former ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) party, has also been arrested three times. But the state recently dropped two cases, leaving one where he is accused of misappropriating government funds when he served as high commissioner to Canada.
The country has recently experienced a wave of political violence, mainly between the PF and UPND. The opposition complains that their members have been arrested arbitrarily, while members of the ruling party have gone scot-free even in cases where they were the culprits.
The most recent case was in the southern resort town of Livingstone where a member of the ruling party was murdered during a by-election campaign. PF officials, cabinet ministers and the police pointed an accusing finger at the UPND and charged one of its legislators, Gary Nkombo, and eight others with murder. But in March, prosecutors...