Zambian authorities must immediately take steps to guarantee right to freedom of expression for artists, Amnesty International said today, after a crackdown on dissent forced a well-known musician to flee the country.
Musician and activist Fumba Chama, also known as Pilato – left Zambia on 5 January after receiving threats over his new song Koswe Mumpoto (rat in the pot), which has been interpreted as criticising President Edgar Lungu and his ruling Patriotic Front (PF) ministers. In it, he sings that the ruling elite are behaving like rats that steal food and eat, including things that they do not need.
“The brazen determination by some in Zambia to silence dissenting views can only spell doom for the culture of robust engagement that the country has been known for,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“The right to freedom of expression must be allowed to thrive.”
Pilato decided to leave after receiving a video message in December recorded by cadres of the ruling PF who threatened to beat him for releasing the song, which has been a huge hit since it came out in December. The chairperson of the party for Central Province had ordered Pilato to stop singing the song on 11 December. Radio and TV stations were also ordered to stop playing it by the authorities.
The chairperson of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) for Central Province had ordered Pilato to stop singing the song on 11 December. Radio and TV stations were also ordered to stop playing it by the authorities.
Police also denied Pilato permits to perform at several planned concerts in December. In places where he was allowed to sing, police imposed conditions, including orders not to play any of his controversial songs.
In another illustration of the increasingly oppressive atmosphere in Zambia, the Magistrates’ Court in the western city of Mongu sentenced a medical doctor, Kwalela Kafunya, to seven years in prison under oppressive colonial-era legislation for creating a fake Facebook account lampooning President Lungu. Kwalela Kafunya was accused of posting disturbing remarks and insults, and digitally altering the president’s image.
“It is worrying that Zambian authorities are now also going after people who are using social media networks such as Facebook to express themselves,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.
“This harassment and crackdown on dissent must stop immediately.”