Media freedom under threat in Zambia
Freelance journalist faces additional charges
Zambia’s swift slide towards an authoritarian state seems to be gathering pace – with independent journalists now bearing the brunt of the ruling Patriotic Front’s displeasure.
Despite the vast majority of the nation’s media wholeheartedly supporting the PF government, the authorities seem intent on intimidating other media – including community radio stations into silence – and destroying the online news provider, Zambian Watchdog, and persecuting anyone thought to be associated with it.
The Watchdog has built up a wide readership over recent years as it offers alternative and independent information as well as investigative reporting. But users in Zambia are currently unable to access the site after it suffered several distributed denial of service attacks. And in recent weeks, three reporters have been arrested – Thomas Zyambo, Clayson Hamasaka and Wilson Pondamali – all of whom are suspected of having links with the site.
According to a statement from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)-Zambia, Pondamali is now facing four charges, including being in unlawful possession of military books and the theft of a Kabwe municipal book. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He is currently being treated in hospital, where he is under tight police surveillance.
Zyambo was charged with sedition and is expected to appear in court on Friday, 26 July, while Hamasaka has been warned and cautioned over the same offence but has been brought back for interrogation on at least two occasions.
Meanwhile, the authorities have reacted angrily to an earlier statement from MISA-Zambia on threats to media freedom and freedom of expression in Zambia.
In an article in the state-owned Times of Zambia on Monday, the Information and Broadcasting Services Minister, Kennedy Sakeni said journalists are not above the law and the state has the power to investigate people suspected of breaking the law.
The Minister was quoted as demanding – “The question is, are you journalists above the law that you cannot be investigated even if the police has reason to suspect you of having committed an offence? If they suspect you, why can’t they investigate or arrest you like anybody else?”
However, in the same report, Sakeni insisted that the government was not attacking media and other freedoms by targeting journalists, media bodies and civil society activists.
There are an increasing number of journalists, media bodies and civil society activists who would disagree.