A Zambian government minister has allegedly threatened to arrest the editors of the online citizen media newspaper, Zambian Watchdog, in addition to closing down their website. The minister is also said to have threatened to charge the editors with treason, a capital crime in Zambia, punishable by death.
On January 2, 2013, Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu, was reportedly quoted by state-controlled Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC), as saying: “ONLINE PUBLICATIONS…. publishing defamatory statements will be taken to court so they explain their false allegations.”
ZNBC has since removed the statement from its website. But many netizens, who have listened to the broadcast on ZNBC, have widely commented on the statement. Like online political activist, Ask Aunt Tina Banda, who writes on his Facebook page:
…..who is it [the minister is alluding to]? Zambian watch dog, Zambian EYE, Tumfweko, Mwebantu media etc….LOL Yaba [exclamation]!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Zambian Watchdog is no stranger to threats of closure. But this recent threat seems to be squarely aimed at the website, which publishes the following statement:
The Zambian government has announced that it will close the Zambian Watchdog and charge its editors with treason. But the Watchdog is reliably informed that the renewed vigour to stop the Watchdog is because this publication has made it impossible for the PF [Patriotic Front ruling political party] regime to push propaganda since their praise singers the Post Newspaper is no longer selling.
After heavily suppressing the opposition political parties, civil society organisations, the church, and other opposing views, dictator Michael Sata’s government has a new-years’ resolution – hunting down and close all on-line publications, especially their worst enemy, Zambia Watchdog (this publication).
[…] Zambia’s Home Affairs minister, Edgar Lungu told the state owned and PF controlled ZNBC that the owners will be charged with treason, a capital punishment in Zambia that carries a death sentence.
The PF government since coming to power has been hunting the Zambian Watchdog and has issued several threats and ultimatums which have so far yielded nothing.
But Mr. Lungu has today (January 2, 2013) openly declared war and that 2013 is the year to get the Zambian Watchdog which has proved a pain to the ruling PF dictatorial regime that is bent on suppressing any opposing views.
Last year, the Zambian Watchdog was named by the Zambia Security and Intelligence Services (ZSIS), better known as the Office of the President, as Zambia’s most influential publication.
Commenting on the latest threat, a number of the Zambian Watchdog's readers expressed solidarity. Honest wrote (individual comments on the Zambian Watchdog website do not have links to them):
The best the [government] would do is to provide the correct position of any matter which the govt feels was not reported with facts. Stifling the [Zambian Watchdog] won’t help the [government] in anyway. The [government] should promote free press where authors write objectively. The truth may be hated by the majority but it will finally triumph over falsehood. Very few people can stand on the side of truth as truth demands loyalty to principles and even personal sacrifice in the face of persecution and so forth. The post should simply go in extinct and rest in the archives.
A reader calling himself The Analyst wrote:
I like the Zambia Watchdog but I also don’t really understand their operations. Are they really in Zambia? Are they even registered with [Registrar of Societies, Clement] Andeleki ? Are people who feed them with Information safe?
A reader, Vlad!, whose previous comments appeared to have been censored, lambasted the publication:
Why dont you publish my posts? Is it because I tell you the truth? Test how popular you are as you claim by not moderating posts. All I know is that you are fake, fools! Why attack the [government] when you know that it will not defend itself? We are here to defend the [government] but you block our comments. How credible are your claims?
A few weeks after the 2011 elections, which ushered the current Patriotic Front government into office, President Michael Sata ordered his newly appointed Attorney-General, Mumba Malila, to “regulate online publications.”
In the few months following that order, the government reportedly released millions of dollars for security officers to pursue online publications in general and the Zambian Watchdog in particular. As a consequence, on May 2012, the website was allegedly the victim of an online attack, and was inaccessible for several hours.
Ironically, the Zambian Watchdog seems to be popular among government ministers themselves. As we reported back on October 2, 2012, Zambia's Finance Deputy Minister, Miles Sampa, and Minister in Charge of Chiefs, Nkandu Luo, were both caught on camera, during a parliament session browsing the very online news website their government is allegedly threatening today: