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Ahead of parliament debate, rights groups stress need for review of Zambia's cyber laws

Problematic laws, vague provisions will make journalism very difficult in Zambia, activists tell parliament committee

James Kunda  | 14.02.2022 - Update : 14.02.2022
Ahead of parliament debate, rights groups stress need for review of Zambia's cyber laws

LUSAKA, Zambia

Digital and media rights groups on Monday reiterated their call for Zambia’s new cybercrime law to be revised or repealed, voicing concerns over its impact on journalistic work.

The Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act was introduced last year by the previous Patriotic Front (PF) government of former President Edgar Lungu with the purported aim of promoting responsible use of social media and curbing online abuse in the country.

The law has drawn mixed reactions in the country, with critics fearful that it will be used to stifle freedom of expression.

Civil society and media activists termed it a ploy by the PF government to suppress online journalism, particularly after revelations of widespread corruption and dismal governance of the former ruling party.

Lungu and his government, however, defended the law, saying it was necessary to protect people from online abuse and disinformation, along with more sinister threats such as human trafficking and pornography.

Since coming to power last August, President Hakainde Hichilema and his United Party for National Development (UPND) have indicated willingness to review and amend the law.

The issue is expected to be taken up when the Zambian parliament resumes its legislative session on Tuesday.

In a report submitted to a parliamentary committee, Bloggers of Zambia, a digital rights group focused on internet governance and media rights and freedoms, pointed out that the “problematic laws” would “make journalism practice very difficult” in the Southern African nation.

Richard Mulonga, head of the rights group, told the committee that a section of the law “criminalizes publishing of information or data presented in a picture, image, text or symbol that compromises the safety and security of any other person.”

“This is overly broad, vague and can be used to stifle journalistic work. This section needs revision to exclude journalistic work,” he said.

The report said there is a “need to revise, repeal and harmonize all laws that have provisions which are inimical to the media work,” including clauses in other existing legislations such as the Penal Code, Public Order Act, State Securities Act, and Printed Publications Act.

Another contentious point has been the vague description of “seditious” practices in the new law.

Austin Kayanda, director of the Zambia chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), told the committee that the term “must be clearly defined, and fines or jail terms reviewed as they impact media freedom.”

He emphasized that the clause related to defamation of the president “has provisions which are vague and prone to abuse and should be struck out and placed under common civil law.”

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