Zambia: State of Emergency signifies worrying signs for civic space

Zambia: State of Emergency signifies worrying signs for civic space

The declaration of State of Public Threatened Emergency in Zambia is a glaring indication of plans by the government to increase restrictions on civic space in an effort to consolidate the regime of President Edgar C Lungu, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambian Council for Social Development (ZCSD) noted today.

On 5 July 2017, President Lungu invoked Article 31 of the Zambian constitution to proclaim a State of Public Threatened Emergency. The proclamation, which was ratified by Parliament, will further limit civic space in a country once renowned for its democratic credentials. It will last for three months and empowers the police to ban public gatherings and impose restrictions on travel.

ZCSD and CIVICUS are extremely concerned that the State of Public Threatened Emergency was ratified by the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party in the absence of 48 MPs from the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND), who were on suspension for boycotting President Lungu’s speech in protest of his electoral victory.

“Legally, under the State of Threatened Public Emergency, all powers must be exercised in accordance with the Bill of Rights. However, even before the declaration, the Zambian police have been in the spotlight for using excessive force against opposition members and the media. The situation we are in now will likely lead to a constrained democratic space in Zambia,” said Lewis Mwape, executive secretary of the Zambia Council of Social Development.

A thorough assessment of the situation in Zambia reveals that there was no reasonable justification for the invocation of emergency powers by the executive. President Edgar Lungu said he had invoked the emergency powers to deal with "acts of sabotage" by his political opponents after fire gutted the country's biggest market, the Lusaka City Market on 4 July 2017. No investigation has been conducted to ascertain the cause of the blaze so no excuse existed to show that if the situation was left unchecked, it would degenerate into an emergency.

The emergency declaration has led to fears that it is a means to silence political opponents, civil society and the media who have questioned the legitimacy of the President following the 2016 controversial presidential and parliamentary elections.  The opposition maintains the elections were rigged in favour of President Lungu. Given the wide emergency powers that this invocation envisages, it will be difficult for the civil society and the media to effectively play their oversight role of providing checks and balances.

CIVICUS and ZCSD call for an immediate revocation of the State of Threatened Public Emergency and for the respect of the rights of expression, assembly and association for all Zambians.

Note: Civic space in Zambia is rated as “obstructed” by the CIVICUS Monitor, a global tracking tool of violations against the freedom of expression, association and assembly.

For more information, contact:


Lewis Mwape

Executive Secretary, Zambia Council for Social Development


Tel: +260 977 806 176/ 969 540 627


Teldah Mawarire

Advocacy & Campaigns officer, CIVICUS

Tel: +27 11 833 5959


Grant Clark

Media Advisor: CIVICUS

Tel: +27 63 567 9719



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