Zambia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Trend Arrow: 

Zambia received a downward trend arrow due to the ruling party’s ongoing repression and harassment of the political opposition, including through the increased use of the Public Order Act, hindering its ability to operate in general and to campaign in by-elections.


In 2013, President Michael Sata and his Patriotic Front (PF) party achieved some progress on economic reforms but generally failed to fulfill other promises—such as promulgating a new constitution, media-sector reforms, and rooting out corruption—that they made ahead of the 2011 elections, in which they ousted the long-governing Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). Instead, Sata and the PF governed in an increasingly autocratic manner, using repressive laws and policies as well as extralegal intimidation against the opposition, media, and civil society.

As part of what many alleged was a concerted effort to undermine the MMD and another opposition faction, the United Party for National Development (UPND), the PF government prevented numerous political gatherings throughout the year by invoking the colonial-era Public Order Act and filing multiple legal cases against UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema and MMD leader Nevers Mumba. In addition, more than 35 by-elections were held during 2012 and 2013 due to successful PF court challenges regarding seats it had lost in the 2011 polls, as well as a PF strategy of enticing opposition legislators to change sides with offers of government posts. (A party switch automatically triggers a by-election.) With the opposition further weakened by internal discord in the MMD, the PF has been able to win several new seats and gain an outright majority in the National Assembly.

The year’s increased harassment of opposition and independent media outlets included the blocking of the critical Zambian Watchdog and Zambia Reports websites and the arrest of journalists allegedly associated with the Zambian Watchdog.

In April 2012, a draft of a long-promised new constitution was unveiled, containing several encouraging provisions, such as a requirement that presidential candidates gain more than 50 percent of the vote to win, a strengthened bill of rights, and greater independence for the electoral commission. However, critics have asserted that the draft awards too much power to the president. The final version was scheduled for submission by late 2012, but the process was plagued by delays and a lack of clarity in the way consultations with the public were conducted, and civil society groups criticized the lack of a timeline for a promised national referendum. The draft was eventually finalized in late October 2013. In early November, the technical committee in charge of drafting the charter refused an order from the Justice Ministry that it print only 10 copies, to be given to the president and his close aides. The committee claimed that its terms of reference required it to provide the final draft to both the president and the public at the same time. The committee ultimately handed over the final draft to Sata on December 31, sparking concern from civil society that the government could alter provisions it did not like.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Political Rights: 25 / 40 (-3) [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 8 / 12 (-1)

The president and the unicameral National Assembly are elected to serve concurrent five-year terms. The National Assembly includes 150 elected members, as well as 8 members appointed by the president. In the September 2011 presidential election, Sata defeated incumbent Rupiah Banda of the MMD, 43 percent to 36 percent. In concurrent parliamentary elections, the PF won a plurality, taking 61 seats, followed by the MMD with 55 and the UPND with 29. Although the elections were characterized by fierce campaigning, the misuse of state resources by the MMD, and isolated rioting, the voting was deemed free and credible by international observers.

The numerous by-elections in 2012 and 2013 altered the balance of power in the National Assembly, and analysts have warned that the PF’s maneuvers to increase its parliamentary representation could jeopardize Zambia’s democratic credentials. As of the end of 2013, the PF held 68 elected seats (plus the 8 appointed by the president), while the MMD’s count had dropped to 42 and the UPND’s had moved to 30. Several of the by-election campaigns have been characterized by violence between party cadres on all sides, as well as blatant misuse of state resources and the media by the PF to win votes and discredit the opposition. In one notable episode in late February 2013, the by-election in Livingstone was postponed for two weeks after PF official Harrison Chanda was killed during the last days of campaigning. Several members of the UPND were charged with Chanda’s murder, and Hichilema was charged with inciting violence. It was later found that Chanda had been killed by another PF member. The PF candidate won the by-election.


B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 10 / 16 (-2)

The major political parties are the PF, the MMD, and the UPND. Since its 2011 election loss, the MMD has been weakened considerably due to infighting and the PF’s effort to coopt its members. Throughout 2013, the PF-led government harassed and intimidated the MMD, the UPND, and smaller opposition parties. It utilized the colonial-era Public Order Act to prevent the opposition from holding meetings and rallies. According to reports, the authorities employed the act to arrest both Hichilema and Mumba during meetings with their constituents, and—citing previous violence by opposition supporters—told the party leaders that they needed permission for all rallies or meetings. In May 2013, police prevented the small opposition National Restoration Party from conducting an indoor strategy workshop. Party president Elias Chipimo Jr. was arrested and charged with unlawful assembly.

Mumba and Hichilema were subjected to other forms of legal harassment during the year, facing arrest numerous times on charges such as abuse of office and defamation. Opposition supporters were at times physically attacked by PF cadres, including an assault on Hichilema and his staff in September near Kasama. Opposition leaders and supporters have also been responsible for inflammatory statements and violence.


C. Functioning of Government: 7 / 12

Corruption is believed to be widespread. The Sata government has taken some steps to fight graft, but many of its prosecutions have allegedly been politically motivated. In 2012, the National Assembly reinserted the key “abuse of office” clause of the Anti-Corruption Act, which had been removed by the MMD-dominated legislature in 2010. The clause allows for the prosecution of public officials for violations such as abuse of authority or misuse of public funds. Meanwhile, Sata’s administration launched corruption investigations against several former MMD ministers and officials. In March 2013, the National Assembly voted to lift former president Banda’s immunity from prosecution; he was subsequently arrested, and his passport was confiscated temporarily. Among other charges, he was accused of abuse of power in connection with a $2.5 million oil deal with a Nigerian company from which he allegedly benefitted during his 2008–11 presidency. Banda denied the charges, and suggested that the case was retribution by the director of public prosecutions, Mutembo Nchito, for a case against Nchito and another close Sata ally, Post newspaper owner Fred M’membe, that had begun while Banda was president. In that case, Nchito and M’membe were ordered in 2012 to repay at least $2.5 million to the Development Bank of Zambia, having borrowed it in an effort to finance Zambian Airways, which collapsed in 2009. In response, Sata had suspended the judges who issued the ruling. In December 2013, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court for a retrial, citing irregularities in the first trial.  Meanwhile, the case against Banda was ongoing at year’s end.

Sata’s government has made repeated promises to pass an access to information law, but had not taken action on an existing draft by the end of 2013. Zambia was ranked 83 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.


Civil Liberties: 34 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 11 / 16

Freedoms of speech and the press are constitutionally guaranteed, but the government often restricted these rights in practice in 2013. Although Sata had pledged to free the public media—consisting of the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and the widely circulated Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia—from government control, these outlets have generally continued to report along progovernment lines, and journalists practice self-censorship. The other main daily is the private but pro-PF Post; as a result of the PF’s move into government in 2011, all the major print and broadcast outlets now favor the ruling party. The ZNBC dominates the broadcast media, although several private stations have the capacity to reach large portions of the population. Only about 13 percent of the population had internet access, according to 2012 figures.

The government has the authority to appoint the management boards of ZNBC and the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which regulates and grants licenses to broadcasters. In October 2013, IBA board chairman Emmanuel Mwamba, the information and broadcasting permanent secretary, extended nationwide broadcasting licenses to several local radio stations. However, later that month Sata ordered Mwamba to revoke the nationwide licenses issued to privately owned Radio Phoenix and Q-FM because they had aired statements by opposition politicians; the two stations were allowed to keep their licenses to broadcast in Lusaka. Sata said only the ZNBC and religious stations should be allowed to have nationwide licenses. Mwamba was fired soon thereafter.

The government stepped up legal harassment and intimidation of independent journalists in 2013. It targeted in particular the highly critical Zambian Watchdog, which is hosted outside Zambia, employs anonymous reporters, and often uses inflammatory language against the authorities. In late June, the site was blocked by certain internet service providers in Zambia. Eventually, it became completely inaccessible via web browsers inside Zambia and, for some periods, outside the country as well, although its content could be accessed on mobile phones, using circumvention tools, and via Facebook and Twitter. Another critical website, Zambia Reports, was also blocked at times. In early July, the government raided the homes of two journalists whom they accused of writing for the Zambian Watchdog—Clayson Hamasaka and Thomas Zyambo—and searched for seditious material and drugs. The police confiscated their computers and other equipment, and the two journalists were detained without charge for over 24 hours. Zyambo was ultimately charged with sedition in connection with documents about Sata that were found in his home. Hamasaka was charged with possession of pornography. Another journalist allegedly associated with the Zambian Watchdog, Wilson Pondamali, was arrested in mid-July and faced several charges, including malicious damage to property and attempted escape from lawful custody. He was held for two weeks before being granted bail. Separately, Richard Sakala, the owner of the Daily Nation, one of the few remaining independent print outlets, appeared in court with two others in December to face the charge of publishing false news. None of the cases had been resolved at year’s end.

Constitutionally protected religious freedom is respected in practice. The government does not restrict academic freedom.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 7 / 12

Freedom of assembly is guaranteed under the constitution but is not consistently respected by the government. Under the Public Order Act, police must receive a week’s notice before all demonstrations. While the law does not require permits, the police in 2013 frequently broke up “illegal” rallies and demonstrations led by opposition groups because the organizers lacked permits. The police can choose where and when rallies are held, as well as who can address them. In October, the High Court dismissed a petition in which the independent Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) asked the court to review the constitutionality of the Public Order Act. The LAZ argued that the act infringed on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and discriminated against the opposition.

Freedom of association is guaranteed by law but not always respected in practice. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are required to register and to reregister every five years under the 2009 NGO Act, which was signed into law by Banda but not implemented until 2013. The implementation of the law by the PF government was considered a setback for free association in Zambia; the PF in its 2011 campaign had vowed to review the act, which established a government-appointed board to provide guidelines and regulate NGO activity, and grants the government broad discretion to deny reregistration. Every group was initially required to reregister by November 11 or face a ban, but in December the deadline was extended to February 2014.

The law provides for the right to join unions, strike, and bargain collectively. Historically, Zambia’s trade unions were among Africa’s strongest, but the leading bodies, including the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, have faced marginalization under PF rule. While labor activism continues, government tolerance for worker action varies widely. In October 2013, the government demanded that the South African–owned retailer Shoprite reinstate striking workers and pay them higher wages. Conversely, a major strike by public-sector nurses and midwives over wages and working conditions in November was met with a harsh government reaction, and resulted in the dismissal of over 200 workers.


F. Rule of Law: 8 / 16

While judicial independence is guaranteed by law, the government does not respect it in practice. Upon taking office, Sata replaced most top judges and judicial officials, alleging that the system was corrupt and needed reform. In a disturbing trend, Sata has set up tribunals to probe alleged misconduct by judges (including the judges who ruled against Sata’s allies in the Zambian Airways case), in violation of constitutional provisions on judicial independence. In June 2012, Sata installed his ally and cousin, Lombe Chibesakunda, as acting chief justice of the Supreme Court after forcing out her predecessor. In October 2013, the LAZ mounted protests against and legal challenges to her appointment, which had never been ratified by the National Assembly because she was past the constitutionally mandated retirement age of 65. She has been accused of making biased decisions in favor of the ruling party, including in cases involving PF challenges to opposition victories in the 2011 parliamentary elections.

Zambia’s courts lack qualified personnel and resources, and significant trial delays are common. Pretrial detainees are sometimes held for years under harsh conditions, and many of the accused lack access to legal aid owing to limited resources. In rural areas, customary courts of variable quality and consistency—whose decisions often conflict with the constitution and national law—decide many civil matters.

Allegations of police corruption and brutality are widespread, and security forces have generally operated with impunity. There are reports of forced labor, abuse of inmates by authorities, and deplorable health conditions in the country’s prisons.

Western Province, a traditionally poor and marginalized region, has repeatedly demanded to secede from Zambia, and successive administrations have had a contentious relationship with its people, the Lozi. This has continued under the PF. In 2012, separatists in the region declared independence after Sata reneged on a campaign promise to honor the 1964 Barotseland Agreement, which gave the area limited local self-governance and provided for future discussions of greater autonomy or independence. In August 2013, the authorities arrested more than 45 people after a separatist leader, Afumba Mombotwa, was declared its administrator general. The detainees were among 64 Barotseland activists detained on charges of treason; they were released in late November.

Consensual sexual activity between members of the same sex is illegal and punishable by prison sentences of up to 15 years, and members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community faced increased public harassment and legal prosecution in 2013. In April, prominent LGBT rights activist Paul Kasonkomona was arrested after calling for same-sex relations to be decriminalized on a live show on privately owned Muvi TV. The management of Muvi TV refused police requests to halt the interview. The trial of Kasonkomona, who was charged with “soliciting for immoral purposes,” was ongoing as of the end of 2013. In May, two men, Philip Mubiana and James Mwape, were arrested for engaging in homosexual acts. They pleaded not guilty in a court in the town of Kapiri Mposhi. As of the end of 2013, their trial was ongoing, and they were refused bail. In a surprising development, First Lady Christine Kaseba-Sata, a respected doctor of obstetrics and gynecology, said in early November that no one should be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.

Persons living with disabilities and with HIV/AIDS routinely face discrimination in society and employment.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 8 / 16

The government generally respects the constitutionally protected rights of free internal movement and foreign travel. However, internal movement is often hindered by petty corruption, such as police demands for bribes at roadblocks, for which perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.

Societal discrimination remains a serious obstacle to women’s rights. Women won just 17 of the 150 elected seats in the National Assembly in the September 2011 polls. Women are denied full economic participation, and rural, poor women often require male consent to obtain credit. Discrimination against women is especially prevalent in customary courts, where they are considered subordinate with respect to property, inheritance, and marriage. Rape, while illegal and punishable with up to life in prison with hard labor, is widespread, and the law is not adequately enforced. Spousal rape is not considered a crime. Domestic abuse is common, and traditional norms inhibit many women from reporting assaults.

There is significant labor exploitation in some sectors of the economy. In particular, labor abuses in Chinese-operated copper mines, including unsafe working conditions and resistance to unionization, have been reported. A February 2013 report by Human Rights Watch found that these violations have largely continued despite pledges by Sata to make workers’ rights a priority. However, the report also noted that the government’s 2013 budget nearly doubled the allocation to the Mines Safety Department, showing some commitment to improving conditions.

The use of children between the ages of 7 and 14 in the most dangerous forms of labor, such as agriculture and mining, is a problem in Zambia. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, the most prevalent forms of exploitation in Zambia were internal trafficking of women and children for domestic servitude and forced labor in agriculture, mining, textile work, and construction.

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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