On 23 December President Hakainde Hichilema announced that he had signed into law legislation abolishing the death penalty and a controversial colonial-era law criminalizing defamation of the president. The defamation law had long been used by Zambian governments to silence their critics and rights groups have alleged that the practice had continued (and even increased) under Hichilema’s presidency. Analysts and activists have welcomed its repeal but cautioned that free expression continues to be threatened by other repressive legislation that remains in place. Zambia has maintained a moratorium on executions since 1997 but at the end of 2021 257 people were on death row.
During his opening of the new session of Zambia’s National Assembly on 9 September, President Hakainde Hichilema announced that his government is to table legislation repealing a colonial-era law criminalizing defamation of the president. The law has long been used by Zambian governments to silence their critics and rights groups have alleged that this practice has continued (and even increased) during Hichilema’s presidency. On 1 September the leader of the opposition Patriots for Economic Progress party, Sean Tembo, was arrested under the law after criticizing the president for raising fuel prices – although he was later charged with the lesser offence of hate speech. Hichilema has been under increasing pressure from activists within and outside of Zambia to deliver on his 2021 campaign promise to repeal the defamation of the president law.