LUSAKA, Zambia — The Zambian bishops’ conference called for an immediate end to attacks in which people are sprayed with poisonous substances to immobilize them.

The “criminal and subversive activities” seem well-planned, coordinated and “aimed at inducing fear” among citizens to the point that “people cannot sleep peacefully or go about their business,” the bishops said in a Feb. 21 statement after a meeting in the capital, Lusaka.

Police have received 511 reports of incidents of “chemical spraying of poisonous substances on households” that have affected 1,687 victims across the country, a police spokesman said Feb. 21. Police said 43 people have been killed and 23 others injured in mob violence on people suspected of being responsible for the assaults.

The attacks, which began in December, are “typical acts of terrorism,” the bishops said.

But citizens should not take the law into their own hands, they said, noting that “everyone is innocent until proven guilty” in court.

“Suspects have been subjected to mob justice in full view” of children, the bishops said, noting that in some cases young people have even participated in the violence.

“Irresponsible recording, posting and sharing of such atrocities on social media” have “worsened the situation,” they said. Also, the authorities failed to provide timely and accurate information about the attacks, which fueled rumors, they said.

Zambia is politically polarized, the bishops said, noting “intolerance of divergent views” and an increase in hate speech with tribal overtones.

“Our current economic downturn” with the resultant high unemployment rate, rising hunger levels and increased cost of living, as well as a growing mistrust of the police could be among reasons for the assaults, they said.

“Our political leadership across all political divides must denounce all forms of criminality and subversive activities,” the bishops said.

Security forces “should be proactive” in finding and apprehending criminals and justice must be seen to be done, they said.

“Every Zambian must uphold our traditional, religious and moral values with regard to the sacredness of human life and inviolability of human rights,” they said.

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