Zambia continued to be one of southern Africa’s worst press freedom offenders. Under the repressive government of President Frederick Chiluba, local journalists faced illegal and arbitrary detention, abuses of the judicial process, and a dearth of proper media laws.
A severe crackdown on Zambia’s biggest independent newspaper, The Post, came in the context of increasingly troubled relations between Zambia and Angola, owing to Angolan allegations that Zambian government ministers were involved in smuggling arms to UNITA rebels. The tension peaked in late February, when a spate of mysterious bombings rocked the capital Lusaka.
On November 1, twelve Post journalists (including the paper’s editor, 1995 CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner Fred M’membe) appeared in the Lusaka High Court on charges of espionage prompted by a March 9 article detailing Zambia’s low military capabilities and lack of preparedness in the face of a possible attack by Angola. The trial was adjourned twice. It finally started on December 22, only to be adjourned again until February 21, 2000.
On March 3, Zambian police briefly detained three foreign journalists for filming in Chilenje, a township near Lusaka. The journalists were reporting on a severe water shortage in Lusaka that resulted from the February bombings.
On April 6, Post reporter Goodson Machona visited the office of Information and Broadcasting minister Newstead Zimba, seeking comment on the progress of investigations into the bombings and on the increased military patrols in Lusaka. He was told that the minister refused to speak to The Post. Several other queries from The Post to the minister’s office went unanswered.
Government ministers also tried to justify their failure to reform Zambia’s media laws, despite an outstanding government promise to do so. In February, Education Minister Godfrey Miyanda said in parliament that the libel and defamation law needed tightening because some journalists were abusing it. “You just have to pick up a newspaper [to see that] people are disparaging other people with impunity, in total disregard of the damage it does to others,” the minister said. “I hope the minister of legal affairs will consider stiffening the penalties to deter these people”
In May, Information Minister Zimba told the Zambia News Agency that his government had no intention of repealing laws that restrict access to information and other aspects of press freedom (at least 26 such statutes remain on the books). The Zambian government further stifled free expression by restricting the access of opposition parties and other perceived opponents to state-run media. This issue came to the fore in February, when the opposition United Party for National Development complained that its activities were scarcely covered by government news organizations.
Although opposition parties and journalists have been calling for the privatization of state media for several years, the Chiluba government has ignored the issue. Meanwhile, the government has continued to appoint chief executives to the Zambia Information Services, the Zambia News Agency, the Zambia Daily Mail, the Times of Zambia, and the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, all of which receive public funding.
Katundu, Shimo, and Kaunda, reporters for the independent daily newspaper The Post, were arrested at their homes in Lusaka.
Later that evening, police began roving throughout the city in search of the newspaper’s editorial staff, following an apparent order to arrest them all before dawn. By March 10, police had also arrested Malupenga, Brighton Phiri, and Machona.
Defense Minister Chitalu Sampa ordered the arrests in retaliation for the March 9 edition’s lead story, entitled “Angola Worries Zambia Army, ZAF.” The article quoted unnamed senior Zambia Army and Zambia Air Force (ZAF) officers to the effect that Zambia could not withstand a military attack by Angola.
On March 10, police also besieged the editorial offices and the printing press of The Post, cutting off power and water supplies and trapping a number of staff inside. That same day, CPJ sent a protest letter to President Frederick Chiluba.
The police siege of The Post was called off on March 12, shortly after the six journalists were released on a writ of habeas corpus. On March 17, police went to The Post‘s editorial offices to issue summonses and formally charge the six journalists with espionage. In court the following day, all six were granted bail of K100,000 (US$43).
Three days later, police arrested two more Post reporters, Hapande and Muyumba, on similar espionage charges. They were picked up at their homes, detained briefly, and then released.
M’membe, the Post‘s editor in chief, was arrested on the same charge on March 22 and immediately released on bail. Between March 30 and March 31, four more Post journalists–Jere, Nampito, Kayumba, and Reuben Phiri–were also charged with espionage.
On April 16, 12 of the 13 journalists were committed to the High Court for trial on espionage charges. (The 13th, Malupenga, was discharged after all charges against him were dropped without explanation.)
On November 1, three days after CPJ sent another letter of protest to President Chiluba, all 12 journalists appeared at the Lusaka High Court and pleaded not guilty. The case was adjourned until November 25, and the 12 were released on bail. The charges against Mukalya Nampito were dropped because it was decided she had no case to answer. The other 11 defendants appeared again in court on December 22, when a Zambian Army brigadier general, Isaac Chizuzi, testified for the prosecution. The trial was then adjourned again until February 21, 2000, to allow time for remaining witnesses to testify.
Alphonsius Hamachila, The Monitor ATTACKED
Hamachila, a reporter for the independent Monitor newspaper, was abducted and beaten in Mazabuka by members of the ruling Movement for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD). Party officials were apparently enraged by an article that Hamachila had published in The Monitor a few days earlier alleging MMD politician Gary Gaali Nkombo’s involvement in a corruption scandal. Nkombo was the MMD candidate for the parliamentary by-election in Mazabuka that took place on November 30. (Election results were unavailable at year’s end.)
Nkombo himself reportedly ordered the abduction of Hamachila. Several MMD members drove the reporter to an unknown building, where he was interrogated for two hours and then released. Some sources say Nkombo was present at the interrogation.
This article was originally published on Attacks on the Press 1999: Zambia