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Online and Off, Assaults on Independent Media in Zambia

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, July 19 2013

President Michael Sata (Flickr)

In the past two weeks Zambian authorities have stepped up their assaults on the independent news site the Zambian Watchdog. Since July 9, three journalists have been arrested for allegedly contributing to the site, and at least one has been charged with sedition. Meanwhile, authorities blocked access to Zambian Watchdog on Tuesday. After the site was moved to a different address, the new location was quickly blocked as well. Reporters Without Border created a mirror site, but today reported that it was blocked within hours.

Writing for his blog on The Guardian, Roy Greenslade called the situation a “press freedom crisis.”

The Zambian Watchdog has long been a target of the Zambian authorities for its criticism of President Michael Sata and his government. In 2009 it was forced out of the country into exile, while the contributing journalists live in country, writing anonymously. Earlier this year techPresident reported that the Zambian Watchdog was a client of the non-profit International Media Support, which helps media outlets stay online in places with limited press freedom.

At the time of the techPresident story, the Watchdog was the eighth most-visited site in Zambia, indicating a need and desire for unbiased reporting from an independent (not state-controlled) media outlet. While it appears that International Media Support helped Zambian Watchdog achieve that illustrious status, they are apparently powerless against outright blocks (as opposed to denial-of-service attacks).

Wilson Pondamali was arrested on July 17, but according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, his current condition, location and the charges against him are unknown. Clayson Hamasaka and Thomas Zyambo were arrested on July 9. Only Zyambo was charged with sedition.

In 2012, Sylvia Masebo, Zambia's Minister of Tourism in Zambi, “warned that negative publicity by The Zambian Watchdog has the possibility of [negatively] affecting the Zambia's hosting of the UNWTO [U.N. World Tourism Organization] General Assembly scheduled for August 2013.” She called for a ban of the website, and the president has expressed a desire to further regulate online media.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.