Zambia has struggled to eliminate tribal and racial discrimination throughout its post-independence history. And we are certainly not at the end of the road toward equal justice and the elimination of tribal and racial discrimination.
Today, we have a government that is more tribally inclined than we have seen or experienced before in our post-independence history. Today, whichever public institution, ministry, department, agency, commission or parastatal organisation you look at, the tribal composition of the key positions is difficult to conceal or ignore.
But those who try to question, challenge or criticise Mr Hakainde Hichilema’s tribally inclined appointments are accused of promoting tribal hatred or hate speech. They are trying to defend their tribalism by curtailing free speech and restricting freedom of expression.
In light of this, we have long made clear our concerns over resorting to restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, in order to defend what cannot be defended or tolerated.
Curtailing and punishing such speech is neither an effective approach to defending what cannot be defended nor an appropriate way for Mr Hichilema’s government to stop Zambians from questioning his appointments and other decisions and actions.
Suppressing ideas and criticism never succeeds in making them go away. In fact, to do so can be counterproductive and even raise the profile of such ideas and criticism. We believe the best antidote to all this is constructive dialogue that counters and responds to such speech by refuting it through principled arguments, causing the criticism to fall under its own weight.
Our history has taught us that curtailing freedom of expression and speech is both a misguided and dangerous enterprise. The better course is to ensure that avenues of expression remain open in order to expose, contradict, and drown out tribal and hateful speech in the marketplace of ideas.
As Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, wrote, “[W]e have nothing to fear from the demoralising reasonings of some, if others are left free to demonstrate their errors and especially when the law stands ready to punish the first criminal acts produced by the false reasonings.” False and hate speech, in other words, will wither in the face of public scrutiny.
Today, so many opposition leaders are being arrested and detained for allegedly publishing, “false, scandalous, and malicious writing” against the government of Mr Hichilema with the intent to “excite against them … the hatred” of the people. This is being used as a very potent political tool in the hands of Mr Hichilema to prosecute Zambians for speaking out against the tribalism and other misdeeds of his government.
Mr Hichilema’s actions are increasingly becoming unpopular because many Zambians are recognising that our young multiparty democracy needs dissent, not dictates, in order to survive.
Mr Hichilema is effectively making it illegal to criticise his tribalism and other misdeeds. Those who speak out against his tribalism in public or in writing are punished as criminals, often severely.
It will only be through the efforts of those who are today courageously spreading their message at the risk of being arrested, detained, and tortured, that we will end these injustices of Mr Hichilema.
In so doing, we are reaffirming our commitment to freedom of expression and the right to speak out against injustice. Clearly, competition in ideas is a more appropriate way to address these issues than is government action to restrict expression.
Moreover, liberal democrats believe that, “however pernicious an opinion may seem, we depend for its correction not on the conscience of judges and juries but on the competition of other ideas”.
We defend freedom of expression not only because it is enshrined in our Constitution as the law of the land, but also because our multiparty democracy depends on the free exchange of ideas and the ability to dissent. And we protect freedom of expression because the cost of stripping away individual rights is far greater than the cost of tolerating hateful words. We also have grave concerns about empowering governments to ban offensive speech and about how such power could easily be misused to undermine democratic principles.
We believe that robust implementation of obligations to combat these evils, while simultaneously protecting freedom of expression, is essential.
Our observations are well corroborated or supported by the recently released US Department of State – US 2022 Country Report on Human Rights Practices: Zambia.
President of Socialist Party