In Zambia, harassment of Watchdog site continues

Cape Town, South Africa, July 17, 2013–Zambian authorities should stop their ongoing harassment of the Zambian Watchdog, a site that reports on alleged government corruption, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police arrested another journalist they accused of contributing to the site, and blocked domestic access to the site for the second time, according to an editor at the Watchdog and news reports.

“It is alarming to see a democratically elected government determined to silence and intimidate its critics,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. “On the eve of Nelson Mandela’s birthday, we call on President Michael Sata to honor freedom of speech and to heed Mandela’s words that a critical, independent, and investigative press is the lifeblood of any democracy.”

Police arrested Wilson Pondamali, a freelance journalist, while he was traveling from the capital, Lusaka, to his home in Kabwe in the evening, accusing him of being a contributor to the Zambian Watchdog, according to an editor at the website. Police also searched his home early today, the editor said.

Police did not disclose Pondamali’s condition, whereabouts, or any charges against him, the editor said.

Pondamali’s arrest follows that of two other journalists accused of writing for the Zambian Watchdog on July 9. Police raided the homes of Clayson Hamasaka and Thomas Zgambo and arrested the journalists, according to news reports. Police released the journalists, but charged Zgambo with sedition in connection with documents about President Michael Sata found at his home, Zgambo told CPJ. He said the documents included information about how Sata started his Patriotic Front party, which came to power in the 2011 election.

Zgambo was released on bail and is scheduled to appear in court on July 26. He said a sedition conviction carries a minimum sentence of seven years in jail.

Hamasaka told CPJ that he was not charged, but that police had not returned the items they had confiscated, including his mobile phone and his family’s laptops.

Authorities blocked domestic access to the Zambian Watchdog on Tuesday afternoon, the editor said. The site’s staff was able to move the site to a different address, but authorities blocked it again early today, he added. The Watchdog was also blocked on June 24 for four days before it was moved to a secure address.

The Zambian Watchdog is a private site that is registered outside of the country but publishes content written by Zambian journalists and editors. It has been targeted several times by Zambian authorities. In August 2012, Zambia’s Minister of Tourism called for the banning of the Watchdog, saying that the website’s critical coverage could affect the country’s image in the lead-up to the U.N. World Tourism Organization meeting in August 2013, which Zambia is hosting, according to news reports. In September 2012, news accounts reported that Sata had ordered government agencies to explore ways to block access to the site, and that Zambian Attorney General Mumba Malila was working on a law to restrict online media.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Zambia page here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been modified to reflect the correct spelling of Thomas Zgambo’s name. The text has also been modified to protect the identity of a journalist who fears reprisal.