Thomas Allan Zgambo, a journalist with the Zambian Whistleblower online news outlet, was arrested in November 2023 and charged with seditious practices over an article he wrote criticizing the government. He could face up to seven years in jail.
Zgambo is an investigative reporter for the Zambian Whistleblower, which was set up in 2021 and publishes news and commentary on multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, where it has about 145,000 followers, YouTube, and X, formerly Twitter. It has been critical of the ruling United Party for National Development, according to CPJ’s review.
On November 28, 2023, Zgambo was arrested and detained at Chilenje police station in the capital, Lusaka, according to news reports. Zgambo said officers questioned him about an October 17 report that the government was importing “substandard” genetically modified maize from South Africa without informing consumers of any potential harm.
Under Zambia’s biosafety law, the government must inform the public about the import of genetically modified products and any associated risks.
In a November 30 statement, the police said that they had charged Zgambo with seditious practices for publishing an article “with a view to raise discontent or disaffection among the people of Zambia.” The penalty for this offence is up to seven years in jail, under the penal code.
Zgambo told CPJ that the police confiscated his two mobile phones and laptop and ordered him to unlock them. The devices were still with the police at the time of publication.
On December 1, 2023, Zgambo was released after posting a 50,000 kwacha (US$1,935) bail, according to documents he published on Facebook. The following day, Zambian Whistleblower reposted the article about the genetically modified maize.
Zgambo’s lawyer, Jonas Zimba, told CPJ that the journalist was released after Zimba wrote to the police threatening to take them to court for detaining his client for longer than necessary over a bailable offense.
Zgambo told CPJ that his arrest was a form of “persecution” meant to silence him after he opposed President Hakainde Hichilema’s candidacy in the 2021 elections.
Zgambo was previously charged with sedition in 2013 after documents about the then-President Michael Sata were found in his home. Zgambo told CPJ that he was released on police bond but never received a date to appear in court.
Presidential spokesperson Clayson Hamasaka and justice ministry representatives did not respond to CPJ’s calls and text messages. Police spokesperson Rae Hamoonga referred CPJ to his earlier online statement.
Editor’s note: Zgambo was released on bail on December 1, 2023, but is included in CPJ’s 2023 census—a snapshot of journalists incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. local time on December 1 each year—because he was still in custody at this time.