Is this the end of Zambia's Public Order Act?

By Richard Lee | November 02nd, 2012
President Michael Sata
President Michael Sata

The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) has finally had enough. Having watched as the 1-year-old Patriotic Front government resorted time and time again to the repressive powers of the colonial Public Order Act to prevent critics from exercising their right to hold public gatherings, the Association has decided to challenge the constitutionality of the Public Order Act in the High Court.

“It is clear to us that the Public Order Act as it stands today is subject to manipulation and has been arbitrarily used to stifle freedom of assembly,” said James Banda, LAZ President. “Accordingly our considered view is that such a law cannot be allowed to grace our statute books and our litigation team will shortly file an appropriate application to challenge this colonial law.”

If politicians actually stuck to their campaign words, the Public Order Act would be history by now – dumped into the same bin as a host of other equally awful colonial laws – because Michael Sata, when he was in opposition, had made it clear that he thought the law was 'evil' and campaigned for it to be repealed.

But a year is a long time in politics – especially in State House – and President Sata is now a firm supporter of the 1955 Act and clearly enjoying the authoritarian powers it come with it.

"When you are in government is when you realise that there will be no government when there’s no sanity in society,” said Sata. “There will be no government when there’s no order in society.”

Clearly ‘order’ in Sata-speak means preventing opposing groups from exercising their basic right to freedom of assembly and using the police to do so – and using them more and more often. Having tried to reason with the powers-that-be, the LAZ, which was a former OSISA grantee, has decided that there is only one way forward – to take the repeal of the law into its own hands.

“The decision to litigate is necessary to remove any tension which is mounting as a result of the arbitrary application of this archaic law,” said Banda. “It is necessary in a democratic dispensation such as ours to ensure that fundamental freedoms are not left to the whims and caprices of a few individuals wielding state power.”

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