GEARS executive director McDonald Chipenzi has asked the Chief Justice to constitute a medical board as provided for by law to ascertain Sean Tembo’s alleged defamatory statement against President Edgar Lungu in his March 15 posts on Facebook.
Tembo, the Patriots for Economic Progress Party leader, is currently in detention at Lusaka Central Police Station for alleged defamation of the President.
In a posting on Facebook, Tembo stated that President Lungu was possibly suffering from a mental illness, which he said could be “the primary cause of his various irrational national decisions in the recent past”.
In reaction, Chipenzi said Police should not have arrested Tembo but allow the Chief Justice to constitute a medical board to ascertain the truth of Tembo’s Facebook statement.
“If it is the defamation of the President, the Chief Justice must be allowed to constitute a medical board as provided for by law to ascertain the truth because the evidence of his allegations can only be after an inquiry. Anything else outside the inquiry or tribunal or medical board as provided for in Article 107 of the Constitution is mere political talk which is and cannot be criminalized,” Chipenzi stated.
He stated that Tembo’s arrest was evidence of shrinking civic and political space and “a testament of how police actions do not take the provisions of the Constitution as contained in Article 193, that of respect and upholding citizens’ human rights” and “clear abuse of the archaic defamation clause in our laws”.
“We need to interrogate the constitutionality of this clause in terms of freedoms of opinion, expression and dissemination of such opinions as we continue to bemoan the shrinking civic, media and political space in Zambia,” stated Chipenzi.
Tembo has said he stuck by his statement that President Lungu was “possibly suffering from a mental illness”.
“As a matter of fact, the national prevalence of mental illness in Zambia is currently about four per cent of the general population and a whopping 13 per cent of the adult male population. It is on this basis that the framers of the Republican Constitution took into account the possibility that a person elected to the position of Republican President might suffer a mental illness during their tenure,” Tembo said.
He said accordingly, Article 107 of the Republican Constitution provides guidance on the procedures that must be followed if the Head of State was suspected of suffering from a debilitating mental illness.
Tembo said his party had been closely monitoring the quality of official decisions made by President Lungu, “ever since he took office in February of 2015”.
He said the PeP had also been consistently pointing out any poor decisions made by the President, which they usually attribute to incompetence.
“However in the recent past, we have noted certain poor decisions made by President Lungu which are too grave to be attributed to incompetence alone, but actually border on mental illness or incapacity,” stated Tembo. “…a case in point was the decision by President Lungu to purchase a brand new Gulfstream G650 private jet for himself using approximately K900 million of tax payers money, and yet he is failing to pay salaries for his employees in the civil service, local government and parastatal bodies.”