CPJ, Paradigm Initiative urge Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema to institute press freedom reforms

CPJ and Paradigm Initiative write to Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema to urge him to act on his commitments and ensure Zambia’s press can work freely and without fear of reprisal.

November 17, 2022

Hakainde Hichilema
President of Zambia
Plot 1, Independence Avenue, 
Lusaka, Zambia

Sent via email

Dear President Hichilema,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global press freedom organization, and Paradigm Initiative, an African digital rights and inclusion advocacy organization, welcomed your pronouncements on August 16, 2021, as president-elect on guaranteeing press freedom, supporting independent journalism, and ensuring the safety of journalists. We urge you to act on those commitments and the following points to ensure Zambia’s press can work freely and without fear of reprisal. 

  1. Zambia’s Cyber Security law

Is your government committed to repealing or reforming the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act to ensure journalism is not criminalized and that the press are guaranteed the privacy they require to do their work?

In March 2021, five months before your election as president, you promised to repeal the 2021 Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act as a top priority for your government. In August 2022, local media reported that your government began a process to amend that legislation. The Cyber Security law, which was passed before your administration took office, contains numerous sections that may be used to criminalize the press and undermine the privacy journalists need to work. These include:

  • Sections 59, 65, and 69, which each indicate prison time and/or a fine for communications considered to be corrupting morals or harassment;
  • Sections 27, 28, 29, and 39, which empower authorities to conduct surveillance, mandate service providers’ cooperation with communications interception, and require service providers to collect and retain personal information of their subscribers;
  • Section 15, which grants authorities power to compel people to appear or hand over information related to an “alleged cyber security threat or alleged cyber security incident.” Those who do not comply may face up to two years in jail and/or a fine;
  • Section 31, which criminalizes disclosure of “intercepted communication” without ensuring protection for journalistic reporting in the public interest;
  • Section 77, which provides that someone with knowledge of a computer or data protection measures “shall permit” and “assist” authorities in accessing “any computer data” even if they have not, personally, been accused of a crime.

Local and international civil society groups have raised alarm over the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act. These concerns were reinforced in January 2022, when police investigated Kenmark Broadcasting Network (KBN TV) journalist Petty Chanda under Section 31 of the Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of intercepted communications. The investigation revolved around a January 18 TV broadcast of a leaked audio conversation in which Levy Ngoma, your political advisor, and Joseph Akafumba, the Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Home Affairs, allegedly plotted to ban an opposition party from participating in a local election.

On May 31, 2022, Felix Chipota Mutati, Zambia’s Minister of Technology and Science, said the government would review the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act and that “the internet must be used for the transformation of the country’s economy and not as a tool for spreading fake news, harassment and circulation of obscene materials.” Since then, the government has requested recommendations for reforms from civil society groups, including Paradigm Initiative.

  1. Penal code reform

Will you make the necessary legal reforms to decriminalize defamation and ensure journalists do not face the looming threat of criminal investigation or prosecution for their work?

Zambia’s penal code contains sections criminalizing defamation and sedition, which have been used to prosecute the press. In April 2016, Joan Chirwa and Mukosa Funga of The Post were charged with defamation over an article about then president Edgar Lungu, as CPJ reported at the time. Those charges have yet to be dropped.

In April 2021, columnist Sishuwa Sishuwa was accused of sedition by Zambia’s then ambassador to Ethiopia and permanent representative to the African Union, Emmanuel Mwamba, over an article that discussed the possibility of unrest in Zambia’s August 2021 general election. 

  1. Investigation of journalist Humphrey Jupiter Nkonde’s death

Will you ensure your government treats the death of journalist Humphrey Jupiter Nkonde with the urgency it deserves and ensure the investigation is reopened?

In September 2019, journalist Humphrey Jupiter Nkonde disappeared and was found dead near the Chilengwa Na Lesa dam, in Zambia’s Copperbelt province, according to news reports and CPJ reporting from the time. According to an August 21, 2020, ruling, which CPJ reviewed, local magistrate Mary Goma said she was not satisfied with the previous police efforts to determine the circumstances of Nkonde’s death and ordered renewed investigation. However, CPJ has found that to date police have yet to move to investigate Nkonde’s death on claims that they have no leads on which to act.

  1. Attacks by political supporters

Will you issue a direct and public call for political supporters to ensure the safety of journalists and refrain from harassing the press?

In May 2021, supporters of the then ruling Patriotic Front political party attacked two journalists—Francis Mwiinga Maingaila, a reporter at the news website Zambia 24, and Nancy Malwele, a reporter at the New Vision newspaper—as they sought to cover a clash between two factions of the party. Maingaila told CPJ that his belongings seized by the supporters had yet to be returned and he had received no update from police on their investigation into the attack. Also, Danny Mwale, the deputy spokesperson of the Zambia Police Service, told CPJ by phone that he did not know the status of the investigation and would follow up with additional information. He did not.

On July 23, 2021, just before the general elections, supporters of your United Party for National Development (UPND) attacked Victor Mwila, a reporter with the state-owned Zambia News and Information Services, for reporting on their activities in the North Western Ikelenge district. Nineteen of the suspected attackers have been arrested and charged with assault “occasioning actual bodily harm” shortly after the attack, but Mwila told CPJ that those arrested had been released and the case had stalled. Mwale declined to comment or provide details on the case.  

On December 1, 2021, UPND supporters raided Mpika FM Radio, halting an interview with an opposition politician. The matter was resolved following an apology to the outlet by the supporters, but Mpika FM Radio station manager Allan Dumingu told CPJ that he remained concerned such an attack may happen again.

  1. Zambia’s Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA)

Will you ensure that the IBA Act, including Section 29, is reformed and that the changes protect against politically motivated censorship? 

In June 2021, Zambia’s Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), the national regulator, threatened to revoke the broadcasting license for private television station Muvi TV over alleged professional misconduct related to interviews with opposition politicians aired in May and April 2021. Muvi TV’s director of news and current affairs, Mabvuto Phiri, told CPJ that the regulator had yet to follow up, but the threat continued to hang over them.

Similarly, Zambia’s Independent Broadcasting Authority, the national regulator, canceled the broadcasting license of the privately owned Prime TV following a complaint by the then ruling party and after a government minister accused the broadcaster of being “unpatriotic.” To justify the closure, the regulator cited Section 29 of the IBA (Amendment) Act, which maintains broadcasting licenses may be canceled “in the interest of public safety, security, peace, welfare or good order,” or if considered “appropriate.” Prime TV reopened following your election, but the IBA Act remains unchanged. Your administration’s Minister of Information, Chushi Kasanda, on November 26, 2021, said the government intended to repeal and replace the IBA Act, but did not detail how it would change.

We look forward to a continued dialogue with your government on issues related to press freedom and journalists’ safety.

Sincerely,

Angela Quintal
Africa Program Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Bulanda T. Nkhowani
Co-Team Lead, Programs
Paradigm Initiative


This content originally appeared on Committee to Protect Journalists and was authored by Committee to Protect Journalists.


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