Two journalists in Zambia arrested, charged with sedition
Government crackdown on critical news website continues
By: Sasu Siegelbaum, IPI Contributor
VIENNA, July 19, 2013 – Authorities in Zambia last week arrested two journalists with alleged ties to a controversial government watchdog website and charged them with sedition, local media reported.
Thomas Zyambo, a journalist who was allegedly working for the online news source, the Zambian Watchdog, was arrested on July 9 along with another journalist and academic, Clayson Hamasaka, in connection with documents about President Michael Sata found at Zyambo’s home during a police raid.
Zyambo said the documents included information about how Sata started his Patriotic Front party, which came to power in the 2011 election. Police, along with drug enforcement agency officers, raided the journalists’ houses separately, confiscating computers and other digital equipment.
According to the press freedom NGO Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Zyambo was released on bail on July 11 after spending more than 48 hours in police custody. He must now appear in court on July 26 to face edition charges. If sentenced, Zyambo faces a minimum sentence of seven years in jail.
Hamasaka, a former journalism lecturer at Evelyn Hone College, was released without charge one day after his arrest. However, he was also ordered to report back to police for additional questioning on July 15. He has since been charged with sedition.
The attorney representing both journalists, Keith Mweemba, told Agence France-Presse (AFP), “Thomas Zyambo has officially been arrested and charged for the offence of seditious intentions” and that Hamasaka was “charged with the same offence”.
Mweemba also told AFP that officers were looking for evidence that linked the journalists to the investigative news website the Zambian Watchdog.
“They were checking on Clayson (Hamasaka’s) and his colleague’s computers to see if they send or receive stories to Watchdog,” the attorney said.
The Zambian Watchdog, which has consistently been critical of the ruling Patriotic Front party in Zambia, has been the focus of a government crackdown in the country. The website has been the subject of frequent verbal attacks by party officials and it claims it has been the victim of dedicated denial of service attacks in recent weeks.
“The press freedom situation in Zambia has degenerated over the last number of years, and the recent arrests of and legal proceedings against these two journalists are in line with President Sata’s administration’s lack of respect for press freedom,” IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi said. “Too often Zambia has used sedition laws to restrict news content.”
A 2012 article by IPI Senior Press Freedom Advisor Naomi Hunt discussed the Sata administration’s hostility toward opposition media which has taken the form of threats to shut media outlets down and libel suits. Hunt noted that the administration’s actions “appeared to be a retraction of earlier promises to uphold media freedom” in the country.