Zambian police arrest five radio journalists

Police on November 15, 2016, detained five journalists who work for Zambia’s private Mano Radio station, before releasing them roughly 17 hours later, pending trial on insult charges, according to a written account the station emailed to the Committee to Protect Journalists on November 18, and a report on the news website Lusaka Times.

Two days later, the five journalists — news editor Tobias Mangani, assistant news editor Patrick Kabwe, journalists Henry Kangwa, Nzala Hangubo, and Abigail Musonda — appeared before the Kasama Magistrate’s Court and pleaded “not guilty” to two counts of using insulting language, the radio station said in an emailed statement. The charges stem from a November 2 Radio Mano broadcast in which officials from the ruling party, the Patriotic Front, accused Mano Radio staff of being sympathetic to the opposition.

One of the journalists, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the station’s behalf, told CPJ, “Our integrity was at stake, and so after the program, we approached the PF members to express our displeasure about the accusations leveled against us. It was from [this] ‘approach’ that the two PF members claim we insulted them, something we categorically deny.”

In its email to CPJ, Radio Mano said the station’s journalists are accused of insulting the two officials by referring to them as a “dog” and a “useless person.” The journalists’ trial is scheduled to resume on December 14.

Independent media in Zambia has faced increasing threats from President Edgar Lungu’s government, CPJ has previously reported. Privately owned TV and radio stations were temporarily shut down on allegations they posed a risk to “peace and national security” around the August 2016 presidential elections. Journalists from the independent newspaper The Post have faced arrest, and in June 2016 tax authorities raided the newspaper’s printing plant and seized the newspaper’s assets.

Mano Radio on November 18 reported on its Facebook page that Zambia’s newly appointed information minister, Kampamba Mulenga, had told journalists at her first press briefing as minister that the governing party had no intention of suppressing the media and that she was awaiting a comprehensive report from police about the arrest of the Mano Radio journalists.

Ruling party and security officials have harassed and threatened Mano Radio for its coverage many times in the past.

On November 5, 2016, Zambian police sealed the station’s offices and stopped Hakainde Hichilema and Geoffrey Mwamba, the head and the deputy head of the opposition United Party for National Development, respectively, from appearing on a live broadcast, according to the news website Zambia Reports. Police assaulted and detained Njenje Chizu, a reporter from Zambia’s Muvi TV, who was attempting to cover the police raid, the website reported.

On March 17, 2016, Radio Mano was forced to stop operating overnight after PF supporters threatened to burn down its office, the Lusaka Times reported. It reopened after a three-hour meeting between the radio station and PF officials in the office of the party’s Northern Province minister, Freedom Sikazwe, the newspaper reported.

On March 1, 2014, former information and broadcasting minister Mwansa Kapeya warned the radio station to stop airing programs he believed were stirring up public discontent or risk having its broadcasting license revoked, the Lusaka Voice reported.

The Zambian chapter of the non-governmental organization, Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zambia), noted in its report for the third quarter of 2016 that the past few months have posed several challenges to press freedom in Zambia.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This text has been updated to correct Zambian President Edgar Lungu’s name and the date former information and broadcasting minister Mwansa Kapeya threatened to revoke Radio Mano’s license.