Zambian activist arrested after picketing parliament
Picked up after demanding release of draft constitution
Despite repeated promises, the Zambian government is clearly in no hurry to enact a new constitution – but very quick to put constitutional activists behind bars.
On Wednesday, MacDonald Chipenzi, who is the Executive Director of Zambia’s Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) and one of the leaders of a civil society coalition calling for a new constitution, was arrested by the police.
In a move that was clearly intended to intimidate Chipenzi and other activists, he was picked up from Longview Lodge in Lusaka while he was facilitating a workshop on public accountability.
According to the police officer who arrested him, Chipenzi was detained in relation to a statement that appeared in the private Daily Nation newspaper on Tuesday in which he alleged that the current police recruitment process lacked transparency.
It would be difficult enough to believe that line on any day but particularly so now since Chipenzi was doing something far more important – and far more irritating for the authorities – on Tuesday; he was leading a picket of parliament by civil society activists and members of the public demanding the release of the final draft constitution.
The final draft is ready – after a very lengthy process of consultation and many missed deadlines – but stuck in limbo since the Technical Drafting Committee has refused to bow to the government’s demands to hand it over to the presidency and not the public.
Speaking outside parliament, Chipenzi read out a petition on behalf of an unprecedented coalition of 260 civil society organisations calling for the final draft to be publicly released – and publicly criticizing the machinations of the Patriotic Front (PF) government that have delayed the finalization of the constitutional reform process.
After his arrest, Chipenzi was taken to police headquarters and then moved to the Central Police station, where he is still being held – and where civil society colleagues demonstrated today in his support. And demanded his immediate release.
No charges have so far been laid against Chipenzi. But it is clear what his ‘crime’ is – to exercise his rights to speak freely and demand what all Zambians (except President Michael Sata and the PF leadership) want – a new, people-driven and progressive constitution.