By Dickson Jere
What a coincidence!
I was just finalizing my thesis on seditious laws in Zambia, which also touched on the archaic law of defamation of the President. Then bang! A student has been arrested for defaming the President. In my thesis, I endeavored to trace the historical background of these laws that found themselves in our Penal Code. For every intent and purposes, these “insult” laws have become moribund worldwide and represents the old-school of thought – that a King cannot err! That the crown is infallible!
The long and short of it is that even countries that gave birth to these laws like Britain and Australia, have now completely abandoned them as they are no longer justifiable in a democratic state and at most against the principles of human rights. In my literature review, I tracked the genesis of these laws to the Statute of Westminster of 1275 and the Star Chamber cases of 1606 involving De Libellis Famosis in the U.K. The reasoning was that the monarchy was divine and therefore cannot be subjected to public ridicule. This is why it is still a criminal offense in Zambia to insult the Queen! Did you know that?
But then, the police needs to reflect on this.
I do not think the President would tolerate the arrest of a citizen for having called him names. He has been scandalized in worse terms before and never ever resorted to taking legal action even in civil jurisdiction. That has been his strength all along. In any case, what would one achieve by such act? Disgruntled people and rogues will always insult. Just check on how US President Donald Trump get insulted on his own tweeter. He has been caricatured as a pig and called unprintable stuff. It comes with the territory!
This reminds me of my time in State House. The police had arrested and successfully prosecuted a Ndola man, Darius Mukuka, who had insulted President Rupiah Banda. All this happened without our knowledge. And so when the President read in the newspaper that a man was jailed for having insulted him in a bar, he was furious!
“Why should someone be sent to jail for insulting me? If he can’t insult me, who else will he insult?” the President asked before he ordered the immediate release from jail. And a directive was given to the police that people should never be arrested for such. With hindsight, we should have gone further and amended the law.
In brief, the police, most times, are just overzealous.
These laws, which we call “insult laws” have now fallen into disuse worldwide. And so no need to give Zambia a bad name on such straight-forward issues. If someone has been defamed, best available option is to sue in a civil case! You cannot imprison thoughts. Thoughts are free! Wonder why BBC is running the student story on Zambia continuously?
By the way, I do not think President Edgar Lungu supports such. I say so because when I served as MISA-Zambia President, Edgar Chagwa Lungu, Esquire, who was then rejoicing under the name and style of Andrea Masiye and Company, was among the lawyers that we retained to fight the abuse of “insult laws” in Zambia. And he was passionate about it. And I believe he still shares that passion. Seditious and criminal libel laws like defamation of the President are things of the past worldwide. And in my thesis, I recommend for the thorough repeal of these laws!
It is global after all!
And so parliament must take heed.
Repeal insult laws!