Police in Kabwe have been forced to release journalist Wilson Pondamali by a magistrate court.
Mpondamali, who was discharged from Kabwe General Hospital on Wednesday and returned to a holding cell, was being detained for allegedly having links to the news website Zambian Watchdog.
The police intended to keep him in detention and refused to give him police bond. But his lawyers went to court and obtained a second bail. The police ignored the first bail he was given two weeks ago before he collapsed in prison.
Even in court, the police tried their best through the state prosecutor to oppose his being granted bail. The police argued that he was flight risk and should therefore be detained. But the magistrate disagreed withe police and ordered that they release him immediately.
He was released from police around 19 hours but is due to appear in court today on the charge of malicious damage to property and attempting to escape from lawful custody.
Meanwhile, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has condemned the harassment and persecution of Wilson Mpondamali and the general decline of media freedom in Zambia.
In a communiqué signed by all the regional heads, chairperson Anthony Kasunda said the body had observed with dismay the slowly deteriorating media freedom environment in Zambia that had seen the strangulation of online media.
“…we strongly condemn the continued detention of Wilson Pondamali. We demand his immediate release to allow the legal process to take its course,” Kasunda said.
“We have further noted that a number of processes to enact access to information laws have stalled in the region. We therefore call on the governments of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia to expedite the adoption of access to information laws without further delay. We urge the government of Namibia to begin the process.”
The gathering noted that rather than criminalize online media the government needed to engage the cyber journalists to find common ground.
“Recent events across the region point to increased threats to freedom of expression in cyberspace.” Kasunda stated.
”These include the blocking of websites in Zambia, the banning of bulk SMS services in Zimbabwe, and the introduction of legislation seeking to impose restrictions online in the region.”
He said, “We condemn, in the strongest terms, efforts aimed at inhibiting freedom of expression and access to information through ICT platforms.”