Sunday, 17 August 2014

Lusaka Province Rejects Public Order Act, Homosexuality

The Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission in session

By Paul Shalala

Dozens of petitioners who have appeared before the Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission in Lusaka Province have called for the repealing of the colonial-era Public Order Act which has allegedly reduced people's freedoms of assembly and association.

Last week, the Justice Frederick Chomba-led Commission completed its one month tour of Lusaka Province to collect proposals from Zambians on the reform of the judiciary.

In the past four weeks, the Commission held over 10 public sittings in Lusaka, Luangwa, Chongwe, Chirundu and Kafue Districts where Zambians petitioned the commission on various laws and policies that need to be changed.

Nelson Simunji, a lecturer of History at the recently established Chalimbana University in Chongwe District told the commission that the Public Order Act was archaic and needs to be repealed.

"This law is old. It works against democracy. The Police are abusing it and trampling on the rights of the opposition. We need to repeal it and allow democracy to flourish," said Simunji who was the first petitioner on Friday last week in Chongwe.

Mr Simunji's submission was echoed by Zambia Development Conference (ZADECO) President Langton Sichone who also described the Public Order Act as an impediment on democracy in Zambia.

"This law is against the right of assembly. It is against the tenets of democracy. We need to urgently repeal this law and allow people to meet freely without being harassed by the Police," said Mr Sichone in his submission to the commission in Kafue on Thursday.

In every district the commission has held public sittings, petitioners  have demanded the repealing of the infamous law whose implementation by the Zambia Police Service has seen opposition rallies being cancelled and people being arrested for holding meetings.

On the controversial issue of homosexuality, both supporters and opponents of the practice presented their proposals to the sittings across Lusaka Province.

Kaimbo Katengo, a chairman for Zango Youth Consortium shocked commissioners when he spent 30 minutes condemning the Penal Code for discriminating against gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Mr Katengo called for the review of the Penal Code to embrace homosexuality and allow people to practice their sexual acts without interference by the state.

"We feel the Penal Code is unfair and it is infringing upon people's rights. We need to reform this law and decriminalise the so-called unnatural acts. People should not be discriminated upon based on their sexual orientation," said Katengo at the Lusaka Civic Center during the first day of the commission's sittings.

But a few days later, Katengo tendered an apology to the nation saying his submission had received sharp reaction from stakeholders and he promised to appear before the commission and withdraw his statement but to date he has not done so.

In Chongwe, Luangwa and Kafue Districts, homosexuality was sharply criticised by petitioners.

Chalimbana Ward Councillor Charles Mumena called for a new law that would criminalise homosexuality acts and met stiffer punishment on pepetrators.

"Mr Chairman, we are a christian nation. We can not allow homosexuality here. Let us come up with a law that will stop this vice once and for all," said Mr Mumena who is also former President of the Local Government Association of Zambia.

In Kafue, the issue of homesexuality made commissioners laugh.

"If males marry each other and women marry each other too, we a re not assured of young people being there in 20 to 30 years from now. How will we have children when the whole country goes homosexual? Lets stop this foreign practice in Zambia, we do not need it, " said John Mwansa who addressed the Legal and Justice Reforms Commission at Kafue Civic Center.

Currently, the Zambian constitution does not allow homosexuality and perpetrators face upto 15 years when convicted.

Other issues that where very controversial in Lusaka where defamation of the President, land administration, appointment of judges, the construction of houses for former Presidents and allowing TV cameras in courts.

With the completion of Lusaka Province, the Legal and Justice Sector Reforms Commission is next month expected to start touring the remaining nine provinces to receive proposals from Zambians.

The commission was appointed by President Michael Sata in January this year and it was sworn in by Acting Chief Justice Lombe Chibesakunda in March.

The 20-member Justice Frederick Chomba-led commission is deputised by Solicitor General Abraham Mwansa and its secretary is Maria Kawimbe.

Prominent among the commissioners are National Prosecution Authority Chairman Mutembo Nchito, Law Association of Zambia President George Chisanga, Transparency International Zambia President Lee Habasonda and Women for Change Chairperson Emily Sikazwe.

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