International report puts media repression in Zambia on same level with Syria

A new international report on media repression has put Zambia on the same level with Syria and Vietnam among others.

In its report for 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists ((CPJ) says the list is based on the expertise of CPJ staff, but also takes into account press freedom indicators such as journalist fatalities and imprisonments, restrictive legislation, state censorship, impunity in anti-press attacks, and journalists driven into exile.

CPJ developed the Risk List in 2012 to highlight countries where press freedom is on the decline.

But in 2013 chose to add the supranational platform of cyberspace to the list because of the profound erosion of freedom on the Internet, a critical sphere for journalists worldwide.

‘In 2013, CPJ also identified Egypt and Bangladesh, torn apart by political polarization, with journalists caught in the middle; Syria, which continues to be wracked by violent conflict; and authoritarian Vietnam. Also included are Ecuador, Liberia, Russia, Turkey, and Zambia–all nominal democracies where the space for free expression and independent newsgathering is rapidly shrinking’, reads the report which can be accessed here :

Speaking speciafically on Zambia, CPJ said:

‘In September 2011, after two decades of one-party rule in Zambia, the Patriotic Front government led by President Michael Sata promised an era of greater media freedom.

Now, however, the mostly state-owned press is under more pressure to self-censor than ever, while the small space that started to open for independent journalists is shrinking.’

The report says Zambian leaders have long invoked criminal defamation laws to intimidate journalists, and Sata has been quick to use them, according to freelance journalist Paul Carlucci.

“The government pursued independent journalists with a series of vague and spurious charges.

Authorities accused Zambian journalist Wilson Pondamali, suspected of being linked to the blocked news website Zambian Watchdog, with sedition and insulting the president–charges which eventually shifted to theft of a library book and being in possession of military stores.

‘Two other journalists suspected of links to the Zambian Watchdog, Thomas Zyambo and former journalism lecturer Clayson Hamasaka, also faced a variety of charges, ranging from drug possession to insulting the president, which have shifted as police investigations have evolved. “I am heavily restricted in my movements … I don’t know what they are trying to achieve, other than intimidation,” Hamasaka said. “All of my colleagues are scared. Right now, if you do dare any critical reporting, you will be arrested.”

The report further says Zambia Reports, a news website launched in February 2012, was blocked in July. The managing editor told CPJ that the staff believed the government was responsible.

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