Under mounting pressure, Zambia’s government has confirmed it will not shut down social media platforms as it readies three new internet regulation bills for possible introduction.
The Cyber Security and Cyber Crime Bill, Data Protection Bill and E-commerce Bill are under review by cabinet.
Zambia’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services Dora Siliya said nowhere in the legislation does it state the government’s intention to cut social media platforms, and the Bills merely emphasise the responsible use of these platforms.
Siliya said cyber bulling, fake news and fraud were “becoming common in Zambia” hence the need to regulate the use of the internet in order to protect citizens. “Zambia maintains an open ICT sector market. But we are live to the fact that opening up the ICT sector brings certain regulatory challenges that the Ministry of Communications and Transport are required to deal with in order to protect consumers of ICT services across the country.”
In April last year, President Edgar Lungu openly challenged the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) to control what he described as “the threat of social media abuse.”
Subsequently the Minister of Communications and Transport Brian Mushimba threatened to restrict access to social media platforms through the introduction of the bills.
The government has been heavily criticised by concerned stakeholders who have suggested the move will curtail the media and freedom of expression.
Panos Institute Southern Africa Executive Director Lillian Saka Kiefer said, “Panos views this threat as an affront to the country’s democracy and development. It is our considered view as an organisation that any restriction on social media would amount to infringement on Zambian citizens’ right to freedom of expression.”
Lewis Mwape, Executive Director of The Zambia Council for Social Development, said people will now have trouble openly discussing national affairs for fear of being prosecuted.
The Bills will be officially placed before the country’s parliament for approval in the next session in June.