Southern Africa Litigation Centre alarmed by detention of journalists in Zambia

The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) expresses alarm at the arrests that occurred on the 9th of July 2013 of two journalists suspected of running the Zambian Watchdog, a Zambian online news publication critical of the Sata government. This is the latest in a troubling trend of the Zambian government’s attempts to silence criticism – two weeks ago, the Zambian government sought to prevent access to the site from within Zambia.
The two journalists detained are former Zambia Daily Mail reporter Thomas Zgambo and former journalism lecturer Clayson Hamasaka. Mr Zgambo was detained at around 2 am on Tuesday morning. Police raided his house and took computers and documents. Eight police raided Clayson Hamasaka’s home at around 2:30 am, and were still searching for drugs and seditious materials as of 6:00 am.
Both Mr Zyambo and Mr Hamasaka have subsequently been charged with seditious practices. My Zyambo remains in police custody having been unable to provide sureties. Last year, Mr Hamasaka was fired by the public Evelyn Hone College for perceived allegiance to the opposition political party, the United Party for National Development. His wife, Pamela Hamasaka, was fired in unexplained circumstances from the Lusaka Water and Sewage Company later that month.
The Zambian Watchdog is the only remaining independent voice in Zambian media; the Government’s efforts to intimidate it and shut it down represent a serious disregard for the Government’s obligation to promote and protect freedom of expression. When asked by Kaputa MP Joel Bweupe Maxas Ng’onga whether the Government had blocked access to the Zambian Watchdog, Vice-president Guy Scott responded that the present government would greatly celebrate the day the Watchdog is brought down.
Zambia’s Constitution clearly provides that “[e]xcept with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his . . . freedom to impart and communicate ideas and information without interference”. The African Union Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression also speaks clearly to this issue, stating that “Attacks such as the murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and threats to media practitioners and others exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as the material destruction of communications facilities, undermines independent journalism, freedom of expression and the free flow of information to the public” and that “States are under an obligation to take effective measures to prevent such attacks and, when they do occur, to investigate them, to punish perpetrators and to ensure that victims have access to effective remedies.”
A diverse, free, and independent press is a cornerstone of democracy. By arresting persons suspected of being connected to the Watchdog, the Zambian Government is stifling the Watchdog’s constitutional right to provide independent journalism, and is thus preventing the Zambian people from accessing an alternative news source. SALC calls on the Zambian Government to respect its obligations and to immediately desist in their attempts to shut down the Zambian Watchdog.
Issued by:        The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
Further Info:    Nicole Fritz

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