Worrying spate of attacks on independent media in Zambia

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) condemn attacks on independent media houses and journalists in Zambia. Attacks on the media, which intensified in the run up to the 11 August 2016 elections, show no signs of abating. Worryingly, government authorities are curbing independent reporting of the political situation in the country at a time when election results in favour of the ruling party are being challenged by the opposition. 


On 22 August 2016, armed police in riot gear stormed the premises of private television station Muvi TV, shut down transmitters in the middle of the broadcast of the evening news, and forced staff out of the premises. Government agents also forced Komboni radio off-air and confiscated the station’s transmitters. The Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) suspended the licenses of Muvi TV, Kombani radio and Itezhi Tezhi radio station - all three media outlets are questionably accused of engaging in “unprofessional conduct” before, during and after the 11 August 2016 elections.  


Zambian authorities have justified their actions by stating that the media outlets posed a threat to peace and that the suspension of the news outlets was in the interest of the public. In contrast, earlier in the month the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia, other organisations, and foreign observers praised MUVI TV station for fair and balanced coverage of the 2016 general elections. 


The current attacks are a continuation of a worrying pattern of restrictions on democratic freedoms in Zambia. On 16 July 2016, the editor of the widely circulated Post newspaper and a reporter were arrested after they responded to a summons at a police station in the capital, Lusaka.  They were charged with publishing classified information in relation to a letter written by Zambia’s anti-corruption commission which was published by the Post newspaper.  The letter which had been sent to President Edgar Lunga alleged that an official associated with the President had received a bribe from a Chinese company to operate in the country.  


Earlier, on 21 June 2016, officials from the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) raided the offices and printing press of the Post newspaper forcing employees to vacate the premises before closing them down. The ZRA demanded that the newspaper pay 68 million Kwacha (approximately US $ 6.8 million) in questionable tax arears. 


CIVICUS and ZCSD urge Zambian authorities to reverse the suspension of Muvi TV, Kombani radio, and Itezhi Tezhi radio and allow independent media agencies and journalists to broadcast and report without fear of intimidation or harassment in line with Zambia’s constitutional and international human rights commitments.