Stop unlawful arrests, President Sata told

The Coalition for the Defence of Democratic Rights (CDDR) is demanding that the Patriotic Front-led Government of Zambia halt its unlawful arrests of citizens for exercising their constitutional rights by participating in protests.

On Friday, May 17, the Zambian police arrested approximately two dozen citizens during a protest rally against the government’s recent removal of fuel and maize subsidies, which have posed unsustainable cost increases.  Among those arrested were eight members of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a non-governmental organisation that has been threatened by the PF government in the past.  In a separate incident, a small number of female students from the University of Zambia (UNZA) were arrested following a riot at the school, and were allegedly subjected to verbal and physical abuse by the arresting officers.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for this government to commit such blatant violations of basic civil rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly,” said Robert Amsterdam, international counsel to CDDR.  “As a signed party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Zambia is internationally bound to uphold these basic rights.  The CDDR demands the immediate release of YALI members and other innocent civilians who participated in these peaceful protests.”

According to eyewitness reports confirmed by CDDR, heavily armed police have surrounded the University of Zambia, firing teargas canisters in students’ rooms and allegedly beating and arresting students.  Some structures at the University have been set ablaze as police chase students around outside the campus.  Witnesses inform CDDR that this morning President Michael Sata ordered the arrest and expulsion of students from all public universities around the country who have opposed the removal of subsidies on fuel products and maize meal. Hundreds of students are currently in detention, the witness states.

The PF government’s decision to remove subsidies without warning or preparation has prompted food shortages and dire circumstances for many of Zambia’s poorest citizens, while less than a year ago, President Sata gave himself and his cabinet a 100% pay increase and initiated construction of a retirement home.  State House has claimed that subsidies had to be cut due to budget shortfalls, however protesters point to wasteful spending on unnecessary by-elections, a bloated cabinet of more than 70 officials, and a foreign-chaired tribunal aimed at helping wealthy businessmen avoid repaying debts to the Development Bank of Zambia (DBZ).

Meanwhile, the CDDR is concerned over a controversial recent decision by the Supreme Court has granted the government powers to form tribunals to remove judges involved in politically charged cases, posing a serious threat to judicial independence.

The CDDR intends to circulate a new brief detailing these events to the international community.