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Zambian Police Summon Priest After Critical Sermon

Authorities Should Ensure Freedoms of Association, Assembly, and Expression

On Saturday, Zambian police summoned a Catholic priest, Fr. Andrew Chewe Mukosa, for “interviews” at the Copperbelt Police Headquarters on April 9. The summons, which was posted online, indicated that the priest was being sought for “the purpose of investigations,” but provided no information regarding the subject of the investigation.

Fr. Andrew Chewe Mukosa. Source: Radio Icengelo/Facebook

Several media reports suggest the authorities were summoning the priest because of the content of his Good Friday sermon, delivered in his local language, in which he bemoaned the high cost of living, youth unemployment, and persistent power outages affecting Zambia.

The Zambian Observer reported that Fr. Mukosa had confirmed to a local radio station that he was aware of the police summons, but did not indicate whether he intended to honor it.

Despite initial hopes that the election of President Hakainde Hichilema in 2021 might improve human rights in the country, Zambian authorities have continued to crack down heavily on all forms of dissent. Fr. Mukosa joins a long list including  journalists, youth activists, and political opposition leaders who have faced harassment for their perceived criticism of the authorities.  And the Zambian authorities have increasingly used provisions of the Public Order Act of 1955 to disrupt opposition activities, including by refusing to grant authorization for opposition meetings and rallies.

In 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern about allegations of “restrictions on peaceful assemblies, such as cancelling assemblies at the last minute, arbitrary arrests, bodily injuries, deaths and property damage, especially during peaceful anti-government protests and political gatherings organized by the opposition.” Leading civil society and human rights groups expressed similar concerns, urging the government to enact laws to safeguard these rights.

Sunday Chanda, an opposition member of parliament, issued a statement condemning the summons for Fr. Mukosa, adding that “Zambia ought to be a thriving democracy, otherwise how many priests or members of the clergy is the Police going summon, and how does that add to our democratic credentials?”

Instead of undermining and limiting rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, the Zambian authorities should ensure full enjoyment of these rights, which are cornerstones of a functioning democracy.

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