*Joint Press Statement on the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) Submission of the Public Gathering Bill to Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security (MoHAIS) *
*_Lusaka, Friday, 20th January 2023_*
Members of the Press,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Greetings to you all
As you may be aware, on Monday 16th January 2023, the Zambia Law Development Commission concluded its work on the review of the Public Order Act and submitted its Recommendations Report and Draft Bill.
We, the undersigned Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), wish to commend the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) for the submission of the long-awaited Public Gathering Bill, 2022 to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security (MoHAIS) and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The nation may be aware of Government’s pronounced intention to review the Public Order Act. Subsequent to a call for submissions on revising the Act, the Government, through ZLDC, undertook a national stakeholders’ consultative meeting from 29-31 August, 2022 and a subsequent national validation meeting on September 15-16, 2022. At these engagements, stakeholders including we the undersigned CSOs, discussed and reinforced our submissions on the reform of the Public Order Act. While we note that the accompanying report accurately captures the stakeholder discussions and recommendations, we cannot be certain that the provisions of the Bill as submitted to MoHAIS and MoJ accurately reflect the recommendations as validated during the consultative process. We, therefore, call for the Public Gathering Bill to be released for public scrutiny prior to undergoing subsequent legislative processes.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Further, we note some progressive recommendations made by ZLDC in its report in line with stakeholder recommendations which we hope are reflected in the Bill. These include but are not limited to:
Appeals to the Court i.e., the Magistrate Court as an independent/neutral body as opposed to the Minister who may be an interested party and therefore subjective;
Provisions for the facilitation of spontaneous gatherings which are not present in the current Public Order Act;
Provision for an authorizing officer to accept a notice to hold a gathering less than two days prior to the event where five days’ notice is not practical;
A provision compelling an authorizing officer to acknowledge receipt of the notice within 24hrs of receiving notice, and where an authorizing officer does not acknowledge receipt, the notice shall be considered to have been received;
A provision introducing the holding of concurrent public gatherings for which authorising officers will be obliged to facilitate on the same date and time in an area; and
A provision for a register of notices that shall be made available for inspection by citizens during working hours, among others.
The above recommendations are consistent with international and regional standards for public gatherings including the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF). Additionally, they are a significant stride towards guaranteeing the enjoyment of the fundamental rights and freedoms of association, assembly and expression as enshrined in our Constitution.
However, we also observe that some important recommendations are not explicit in the report, for example:
There is a need to explicitly provide for an increased threshold of a gathering requiring police notification to 100 as was recommended at the validation meeting.
There is a need to explicitly provide for exemptions on indoor meetings.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Meaningful stakeholder consultation is a key part of the law-making process and it is our hope that the will of the people will be respected and not repudiated so that, ultimately, the enacted law reflects the resolutions as adopted by stakeholders during the consultative process and speaks to the aspirations of the Zambian people for a just and resilient democracy.
In conclusion, we urge the Government to expedite the process of enacting the Bill into law as per stakeholders’ recommendations to the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security. In addition, we call upon all Parliamentarians to support a progressive Bill once tabled in Parliament. We expect the government to announce to the public when the Bill will be tabled in Parliament as soon as possible.
Issued for/on behalf of the following undersigned organizations:
GEARS Initiative Zambia
GEARS INITIATIVE ZAMBIA
CHAPTER ONE FOUNDATION
FOUNDATION FOR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
OPERATION YOUNG VOTE
ACTION AID ZAMBIA
CHRISTIAN CHURCHES MONITORING GROUP
SOUTHERN AFRICA CENTRE FOR THE CONSTRUCTIVE RESOLUTION OF DISPUTES
PANOS INSTITUTE SOUTHERN AFRICA
ZAMBIA NATIONAL WOMEN LOBBY
ZAMBIA FEDERATION OF DISABILITIES
BLOGGERS OF ZAMBIA
ACTION FOR COMMUNITY ALLIANCE
CENTER FOR YOUNG LEADERSHIP IN AFRICA
ANTI VOTER APARTHY