MUCH as it is universally acknowledged that the right to freedom of expression is a foundational human right of the greatest importance, this freedom should be exercised with responsibility.
Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democracy, key to the protection of all human rights, and fundamental to human dignity in its own right. However, it is also universally recognised that it is not an absolute right, and every democracy has developed some system of limitations on freedom of expression.
In other words, with great freedom comes great responsibility. People should not just wake up and utter libelous remarks against others which might expose them to hatred, shame, disgrace, contempt or ridicule.
In fact, libel has historically been treated as crime on the ground that it has a tendency to arouse angry passions, provoke revenge and thus endanger public peace.
In this regard, we have noted the worrying tendency of some few Zambian, particularly the youths who have been abusing social media by defaming other people in the name of freedom of expression.
For example, Police in Lusaka last week arrested a Lusaka-based photographer, Chella Tukuta for criminal libel.
According to police spokesperson, Esther Katongo, Tukuta’s arrest was in connection with some derogatory remarks alleged to have been produced and posted on social media by the accused person against Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Dora Siliya, Zambia Revenue Authority Commissioner General (ZRA) Kingsley Chanda, Northern Province Permanent Secretary Charles Sipanje and former Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations, Amos Chanda.
For us, freedom of expression comes with responsibility. We believe that any society or nation that wants to progress should have this element instilled deeply in its psyche and actions.
It should also be noted that, as Zambians, we not only have a responsibility to ourselves but also to society.
We are not in any way insinuating that Chellah is guilty, but cautioning the youths to avoid abusing social media by defaming other people in the name of freedom of expression.
If aggrieved, the youths should use the right channel to air grievances in a respectful manner than defaming others- a situation that might land them in hot soup.
To avoid a libel suit, Zambians should exercise freedom of expression responsibly. If they have any evidence of wrong doing by certain individuals who are public figures, let them report to relevant government institutions.
Saying something untrue about a person may cost you later in court — but in extreme situation it can land you in jail, too. Rumor, innuendo, and defamatory gossip are things they should avoid at all costs.
Like we have said earlier, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, but the exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law.
Restrictions are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence.
In almost every State of the world where freedom of expression is being protected under the law, for example in Zambia, national security is the general legal ground for the limitations in these laws.
It is clear from the above that freedom of expression is not only important in it, but also plays a vital role in the protection of other rights.
We can clearly see that the key statements on freedom of expression identify limitations. It is clearly not the recognition of limitations that is the main issue, but the precise application of limitations.
It is very unfortunate that few Zambians- youths for that matter, are using social media as a source of propaganda to promote some special and sometimes obscure interests.
We therefore, wish to see justice to take its course.