- As Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa claims his government is victim to "sabotage and espionage" from the opposition and the press, private media experience a new wave of harassment. Yesterday, three journalists of the independent daily 'The Post' were detained and questioned over an interview with the imprisoned opposition leader Michael Sata.
According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), reporters George Chella, Nomusa Michelo and Stephen Bwalya, of the privately-owned daily newspaper 'The Post', were questioned for more than five hours over statements made by opposition leader Michael Sata that appeared in the paper's 21 July edition. Mr Sata had spoken out about degrading humane treatment while in detention over a charge of sedition.
Heavily armed police officers stormed the paper's premises on Sunday, but were unable to arrest the journalists that day. They were subsequently summoned to report to the police station on Monday. MISA-Zambia today expressed "outrage at the continued harassment of Zambian journalists by the police."
MISA-Zambia said it was "especially concerned about the heightened harassment of journalists in recent months." It was only last month that 'Advocate' editor Anthony Mukwita was warned and cautioned over a fax he had read on the 'Let the People Talk' radio programme on Radio Phoenix. Mr Mukwita now faces sedition charges.
Mr Mukwita's harassment was closely followed by that of 'The Post' editor-in-chief Fred M'membe, who has been accused of defaming President Mwanawasa in the newspaper's editorials. Mr M'membe was also warned and cautioned. The outspoken editor has been detained a large number of times during the last decade.
The government of President Mwanawasa seems to have turned especially allergic to criticism during the last few months, faced with strike in Zambia's main mines and strong opposition to its economic policies.
Opposition leader Sata had been arrested at the direct orders of President Mwanawasa, the Zambian Head of State admitted this weekend. President Mwanawasa told the national press and foreign diplomats that "the culture of violence must be stopped and stopped with a strong hand," stressing that freedom of speech did "not entail engaging in sabotage and espionage."
Mr Sata is accused of having provided the striking miners of the Copperbelt with bombs that were placed in the mines. The opposition leader himself admits he had incited the miners on the Copperbelt to riot, but not providing bombs. He has been termed a "terrorist" by some government officials, claiming he is derailing the authorities' fight against poverty.
Surrounding the strikes and the Sata affair, the government of Zambia has also indicated a tougher stance on the free press, as witnessed in yesterday's attack on 'The Post'. Information and Broadcasting Minister Mutale Nalumango in a speech today said that "some media institutions" were abusing press freedom "through vicious, unfair criticisms and insulting language, which now seems to be the order of the day." This would be not be accepted, he announced.
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