Lusaka: Zambian lawmakers passed a bill criminalising cyber abuse on Tuesday with opposition lawmakers fearing that the law is meant to stifle internet usage ahead of August polls.
Following various stages of voting, parliament passed the bill which outlines laws meant to protect citizens and children from cyber bullying.
Home Affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo argued that there was a need for the legislation as cyber bullying is on the rise in Zambia.
He said many unregistered online publications were abusing citizens while children were not protected.
“There are many hiding in the cyber space abusing our people, insulting citizens and they go unnoticed,” said Kampyongo.
“We want to protect our people from abuse.”
The bill has been met with hostility over fears of an internet shutdown in the run up to elections despite very limited internet penetration, particularly in the rural constituencies.
The opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) alleged that the bill would allow authorities to listen to “private conversations”.
UPND’s Jack Mwiimbu said it would “allow government to shut down the internet on voting day as it has happened in other countries.”
“This is the most controversial law since independence as it will allow the government to intrude into the privacy of our citizens,” he said.
Civil society organisations and an association of bloggers in the country have condemned the passing of the law, labelling it “draconian”.
“This is the law used by many African governments to shut down the internet on elections day,” Bloggers of Zambia founder Richard Mulonga told AFP.
Zambia has enjoyed relative stability since its first multi-party election in 1991, which ousted the country’s long-running post-independence leader, Kenneth Kaunda.
The landlocked southern African country will hold elections on August 12.