Thursday, 13 December 2012

Sedition versus Honest Expression of Opinion

What makes politics if it is not accusation and counter accusation? In fact, much of what consist political accusations are falsehoods that should be cancelled by facts or similar propaganda.

By Nyalubinge Ngwende

Are we as a country getting worse-off when it comes to respecting our leaders in government, especially in the manner we exercise our citizens’ political and democratic rights—regards honest expression of political opinions? Or is it that our leaders have just become so unnecessarily insensitive that they cannot stomach any slight criticism of their decisions and actions?

These questions are pertinent when seeking answers to actions that imply to citizens that they do not have express rights to their freedom of expression. The questions are also pertinent when we try to know whether it is truly democratic when citizens require seeking approval of home affairs ministry for what they need to say about what they see government is not doing right. Or when we seek an answer to whether it is legally correct that one has to obey instructions from the Director of Public Prosecution to apologise over some statement and, if they don’t, must get prosecuted for what is perceived as sedition while those who circulate the seditious statement through print media are let scot free.  

There is an opposition leader in court over sedition, while home affairs minister Edgar Lungu has issued instructions to law enforcement agencies to be alert and net all people who are circulating statements that are seditious in nature. The minister specifically referred to a case in which some citizens are circulating a document that is accusing President Michael Sata of employing his relatives.

Media Law View

From the media law perspective sedition arises from words that are issued at a public meeting and calculated to cause or agitate the citizens to act unconstitutionally. But the words spoken or written in the course of political hullabaloo or controversy hardly attracts prosecution for sedition at international level.

However, when prosecution action is pursued both the politician or any other person who makes the seditious statement at a public meeting and the newspapers that publish the same statement must be cited for the offence. The person or media cited for sedition must prove that what they said is an honest expression of opinion arising from a debatable pronouncement or action by state officials or sovereign. In determining judgement the courts also have to consider the moderation in which the statement complained of was made.

Morals of Democracy

Whether one agrees with this or not, time—past and present—is the best judge of every man.

The morality in a democracy is that there is no going back to penalize what has in the past been set as a culture of honest expression of political concerns. It is a culture that becomes acceptable to question a certain trend of decisions, actions and appointments being made in government. This is true as long as what is being asked has in the history of a nation’s democracy been considered health and merely requires government to provide answers that refute such opinion as exaggerated or taken out of context.

What makes politics if it is not accusation and counter accusation? In fact, much of what consist political accusations are falsehoods that should be cancelled by facts or similar propaganda. The public is not even dull that it can fail to separate chaff from grain; it is intelligent enough to make rational conclusions.

At least the past elections taught us this. We do not need Chanda Chimba III to bring back the memories of what kind of debate formed our political culture, just as it would be extreme to raise from the grave our dead former presidents to remind us of the accusations they had to contend with from their political opponents and how they truthfully and untruthfully responded to such.

Our first republican President KK is around and can tell us the amount of lies he suffered at the hands of his opponents, until the day he left State House in 1991.

One leader we know said KK was harbouring late Saddam Hussein’s family at some state farm. Apparently this was at the height of the first Gulf War in 1990 when the USA and its allies attacked Iraq. At the same time Zambia was undergoing the wind of change, with UNIP facing genuine political opposition for the first time in 27 years. KK was a close confidant to Saddam Hussein and condemned USA attacks on Iraq. The statement of KK habouring the the Arab leader’s family in the country turned out to be a hoax, but  in many ways had put the international standing of the nation in the face of the USA at risk.

Therefore if expression of honest opinion or just a certain political perspective of arguing certain government frailties happened in the past and was not prosecuted as a crime of sedition or treason, it cannot be taken to court now—unless legislation is presently passed to curtail the practice.  However, even passing such legislation or invoking any such law that exists, but has been neglected or ignored overtime because it is inimical to prevailing political freedoms, is fraud in the eyes of genuine democrats. It is attack on the tenets of democracy; it belongs to the list of draconian maneuver

President’s Family Tree
The issue of the President’s Family Tree is sedition according to home affairs minister under PF. But the question of family tree is not new and President Michael Sata is not the first to be accused of appointing relatives to government positions?

Under President Levy Mwanawasa, may his soul rest in peace, the family tree accusations were everyday political commentary even in newspapers that opposed appointments especially in his first cabinet. Opposition political leaders, who today may see this as sedition, did not even have the lightest of conviction that those appointed by Mwanawasa were his relatives. Never at any time did the late President during his time in office pursue anyone for these accusations. Those who formed the family tree included late Mapushi—who was home affairs minister, Ron Shikapwasha—immediate former information minister, Dr Brian Chituwo—also immediate former local government minister and Gabriel Namulambe— former deputy minister at state house and Austin Liato—immediate past labour minister. Surprising, even Dipak Patel, a Zambian of Asian origin, was once included as a relative to Mwanawasa.

Mapushi was believed to have been the former first lady Maureen Mwanawasa’s relative, Namulambe it emerged was a nephew and Liato as in-law because he has a child with Mwanawasa’s daughter Mirriam. We still do not know how Shikapwasha, Chituwo and Patel came to be family members of late Mwanawasa. However, what we know is that people become relatives and family of Presidents through many circumstances that happen even to any common man.

Distant cousins, in-laws, brothers and sisters in marriage, mothers to their love children or grand children may land jobs in government. As we could see with Liato, he found himself being MMD member and serving in a government headed by the grandfather of his love child.

We also know that Chituwo and Shikapwasha could have tribal links either with Maureen or Mwanawasa himself. It was strange that politicians who hardly could show evidence for these links, worse still for Dipak Patel as a relative to Dr Mwanawasa peddled these allegations and made them the centre of their political messages to the electorates. The home affairs minister then never at anytime thought of pulling a sedition manhunt among citizens who circulated a tree that had names of Mwanawasa’s family members in government from the roots, trunk, and branches up to the leaves.

Maybe home affairs minister Edgar Lungu understands the law of sedition much louder than those who have gone before him.

Worrying Times
At the rate at which everything that is supposed to be honest expression of opinion on what government is not doing right is being perceived as sedition is seriously worrying. The founders of democracy, who liberated Zambia out of the true thirsty to make the governance of this country open to free expression of opinions, must be raging in their graves.

Unfortunately, it was the propensity by the UNIP regime to silence its opponents through unnecessary harassment in a bid to make the government infallible in the eyes of citizens, despite the regime’s many mistakes on the economy and democracy, that inspired the true sons and daughters of this country in 1990 to set on a path to pursue and deliver this democracy we are today committed to build based on free speech and doing away with laws that wrongly benefit those in government.

In short, the 1990 wind of change, which was propelled by the burst of popular rage and despair, borne out of too much suffering under the tyranny of UNIP, must have served as enough warning to all future tyrants that citizens cannot be taken for a ride or mistreated for long. In Zambia we have shown that our best tool to bring down tyrants is through the ballot. And it works in a more disgracing and brutal way. Those who used the government machinery to abuse others become vulnerable to abuse, but this is not the way to go in democracy.

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