Two journalists detained without charge in Zambia

Cape Town, South Africa, July 9, 2013–Zambian authorities should release two journalists who have been detained since early Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police raided the homes of Clayson Hamasaka and Thomas Zgambo, saying they were looking for drugs and seditious material and accusing them of publishing stories for the Zambian Watchdog, a site that has been subjected to ongoing government harassment. An editor at the website told CPJ that Hamasaka and Zgambo were being held at police headquarters and were being interrogated separately.

The journalists have not been charged and will remain in detention while police continue their investigation, the editor told CPJ.

Hamasaka’s lawyer, William Mwemba, told CPJ that police had confiscated documents from Hamasaka’s house that included past articles and invitations to meetings at different organizations, some dating back to 2011.

“The raid and arbitrary detentions fit a pattern of harassment on the part of authorities,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator, Sue Valentine. “If police have no charges to file against Clayson Hamasaka and Thomas Zgambo, they should be released immediately.”

Repeated efforts to reach the Zambian police’s public relations officer were unsuccessful.

The Zambian Watchdog is a private site that is registered outside of the country but publishes content written by Zambian journalists and editors. It documents alleged government corruption and has been targeted several times by Zambian authorities.

The Watchdog‘s website had been blocked on June 24, according to news reports. The staff said they believed the government had ordered the blocking because of their previous efforts to silence the website. The site’s editors moved the website’s domain to a secure server, where it resumed publishing.

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. The website came under an even heavier attack by government officials in September 2012. News accounts reported that President Michael 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 on Zambia, 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.