By RABECCA CHIPANTA –
STATE House has described as outrageous and preposterous claims by Amnesty International (AI) that 15 people have died while being held in correctional facilities.
President Edgar Lungu has also reacted with shock over claims by the international rights group that he is abusing the freedoms of citizens, particularly those in the opposition camp and that they are being silenced by the alleged unfair application of the Public Order Act (PoA).
Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations Amos Chanda said the comments by Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty at a Press briefing in Lusaka yesterday were similar to unfounded cries made by the opposition in the country.
“They are saying political prisoners, who are they? 15 people have been killed? Who are these? Those are the allegations that the opposition gave them and we asked for names. If it is political detainees, where are they? All the prisoners have names and have relatives… and what prisons are they in?” Mr Chanda said in an interview in Ndola yesterday.
Mr Chanda said President Lungu invited AI to participate in the formulation of amendments to the PoA, which was not done.
He said allegations made by AI portrayed a biased stance taken by the human rights group before even attending to President Lungu’s invitation.
Mr Chanda said President Lungu responded to all the issues raised by the AI, among them the question of media freedom, human rights and the rights of the poor, especially with regards to access to land during a meeting on Monday.
On the issues raised about the Post Newspaper (under liquidation), Mr Chanda said the President repeatedly made it clear that the matter was between newspaper company, the Zambia Revenue Authority and the workers who were owed money by the company.
“The workers caused the liquidation; ZRA did not actually send The Post into liquidation, but the workers who were owed money as they were trying to recover their money. The President was very clear that he does not interfere in matters of revenue collection,” he said.
Mr Lungu also advised the AI representative against issuing blanket statements on the criminal justice system, as was being done by certain opposition politicians.
Mr Chanda said Mr Lungu was disappointed that Mr Shetty appeared to have taken a different position on the matters discussed in Monday’s meeting with him.
Mr Shetty said during his briefing that Zambia’s Press freedom and freedom of expression had suffered the worst in the last 24 months under President Lungu.
Mr Shetty said his organisation was demanding that President Lungu restored the freedoms that were perceived to have been taken away.
He said he had a conversation with United Party for National Development (UPND) president Hakainde Hichilema at which he proposed that he comes out in public and state his position on the PoA.