Media Alert / MISA-Zambia

After spending one week in jail, journalist facing two more charges

Zambia Alert-Update
Tuesday, 23 July 2013 

Arrested freelance journalist, Wilson Pondamali, will have to answer to two more charges after police in Zambia charged him with attempting to escape from police custody and malicious damage to government property.

zambia flag

Pondamali is currently held at Kabwe Central Police Station on charges of being in unlawful possession of military books contrary to section 181(1)(5) of the Defence Act Chapter 106 of the Laws of Zambia.

He has been in police custody since Tuesday, 16 July 2013. The other charge Pondamali is facing is theft of a Kabwe municipal book, making the total count of charges four (4). The municipal book costs an estimated value of K140 (approximately US$25). He has pleaded not guilty to the charges of being in unlawful possession of military books and theft of the municipal book.

The journalist is suspected of having links to an online news service provider, Zambian Watchdog.Two other journalists, Thomas Zyambo and Clayson Hamasaka have also been arrested on suspicion of having the same links with the news website.

In a latest development, reports reaching the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) say the Pondamali has fallen ill and is currently being treated at Kabwe General Hospital for an undisclosed ailment. He is said to have collapsed in his cell before being taken to the hospital, where he is under tight police surveillance.

According to his lawyer, Mulilo Kabesha, the journalist was scheduled to appear in court for the two new charges on the day he was taken to hospital. Speaking to MISA-Zambia, Kabesha insisted his client did not attempt to escape from police custody.

Reacting to a statement issued by MISA-Zambia on the declining media freedom and freedom of expression environment in Zambia, including the arrests and detention of journalists, Information and Broadcasting Services minister, Kennedy Sakeni has said journalists are not above the law and the State has the power to investigate people suspected of breaking the law.

Sakeni’s sentiments were captured in the State-owned Times of Zambia published Monday, 22 July 2013.

“The question is, are you journalists above the law that you can not be investigated even if the police has reason to suspect you of having committed an offence? If they suspect you, why can’t they investigate or arrest you like anybody else?” he is quoted as saying.

In the same report, Sakeni insisted the government of Zambia, led by president Michael Sata, was not attacking media and other freedoms by targeting journalists, media bodies and civil society activists.

Background

Two Lusaka based journalists, former Evelyn Hone College lecturer, Clayson Hamasaka, 40, and former Zambia Daily Mail reporter, Thomas Zyambo, 40, were on 9 July, 2013 arrested and detained at Lusaka’s Woodlands Police Station after an early morning police raid on their homes.

Zyambo was charged with sedition and is expected to appear in court on Friday, 26 July, 2013. Hamasaka has been warned and cautioned over the same offence but has been brought back for interrogation on at least two occasions.

Pondamali is the third journalist to be arrested in a similar style on 16 July 2013. All are suspected of having links with the Zambian Watchdog, an online news service provider seen as offering alternative and independent information. Users in Zambia are currently failing to access the site after it suffered several distributed denial of service attacks.

At the time of issuing this alert, indications were that another news website, Zambia Reportshad also been restricted.

For queries or comments, please contact:
Jane Chirwa, MISA-Zambia Information & Research Officer
Email: jane@misazambia.org.zm

OR

Levi Kabwato, MISA Programme Specialist: Media Freedom Monitoring & Research
Email: levi@misa.org

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