CPJ concerned over harassment of radio host

New York, June 27, 2005—Police in Zambia have threatened to charge radio host and commentator Anthony Mukwita with sedition after a June 10 broadcast on privately owned Radio Phoenix in which he read an anonymous fax criticizing the government.

The fax, signed “Annoyed Zambians,” criticized President Levy Mwanawasa’s administration for allegedly failing to crack down on corruption and suggested the president’s inaction could result in a coup, according to Mukwita. His show, “Let the People Talk,” is a phone-in program, and Mukwita told CPJ that listeners frequently fax their comments to be read on the air.

On June 22, police served Mukwita with a “warned and cautioned” statement, informing him that he was under investigation for sedition under section 57 of Zambia’s Penal Code. Mukwita’s lawyer, Sakwiba Sikota, told CPJ that the statement is a step toward pressing charges against Mukwita.

Police questioned Paul Mususu, a guest on the June 10 program. Mususu said he was asked whether Mukwita “was reading from a real fax, or if it was a hoax,” the independent Zambian daily The Post reported. Mususu said he confirmed Mukwita’s account.

Following the broadcast, Radio Phoenix management terminated Mukwita’s contract, an action Mukwita believes was prompted by threats from Zambian authorities.

“We’re troubled by this sustained harassment of a journalist by Zambian authorities,” said Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director. “Enforcing this antidemocratic charge would call into question Zambia’s commitment to free expression.”

On June 15, supporters of Mwanawasa’s ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) assaulted vendors working for The Post. Local sources said this was in reprisal for the newspaper’s criticism of Mwanawasa for allegedly shielding a former official, Kashiwa Bulaya, from prosecution on charges of corruption. The government has since initiated criminal proceedings against Bulaya, according to news reports.