Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Zambia's freedom of expression under serious attack

By Nyalubinge Ngwende


Zambians are looking on with bemused irritation as President Michael Sata and his Patriotic Party government continue to shred to pieces the country’s democratic freedoms, with free speech coming under serious attack.

 On Tuesday Sata’s government that is becoming unnecessarily insecure of divergent views, blocked country’s popular online publication the Zambian Watchdog.

The WATCHDOG, which has taken the true meaning of adversary to President Sata's rule by decree administration, has been blocked on all but one ISP portals available in the country.

The publication was pulled down from the dot.com delivery channels around 15.00 hours as the PF continues to pursue the publication for alleged disrespecting of government leadership.

This is the second time this month that government has resorted to desperate measures to block public access to the WATCHDOG, which has lived true to its name in the recent past—bringing to the desktops, laptops and palmtops of Zambians information government would rejoice seeing buried at the dump-pits or kept under government secret seal.

The online publication has been stoic even to a point of calling President Sata, an ailing dictator—a deliberate choice of the words to provoke the Zambian leader who has chosen to become a recluse, hardly seen and heard in public on many issues affecting the nation and showing high levels of intolerance to the opposition.

It is for the first time since Zambia returned to multiparty politics 22 years ago that a publication has faced incessant government attack to the point of complete closure and random detention of all journalists suspected to be associated with it.

In the past government administrations under UNIP and MMD blocked publication of specific newspaper editions that they perceived uncouth to the tastes of the governors, but the PF government seems to be taking a hardliner stance not just to stop a particular story in a publication, but seek complete closure of publications like the WATCHDOG.

Many people in the country who believe in the respect of the freedom of the press have booed the government’s extremist stance, believing the government is doing all this to hide several things it continues to do wrong but wants to keep away from public knowledge.

As the government grows paranoid and sensitive to criticism, independent and wide-reaching publications like the WATCHDOG will be obvious targets.

When the Zambia Watchdog was first tampered with by government on all, but one ISP, including mobile phone service providers, a prominent reggae Musician Maiko Zulu announced publicly that he was abandoning Airtel mobile phone to MTN so that he could continue enjoying the Watchdog. Airtel immediately restored the online publication which had quickly eluded the government filtering gadgets on http://www.com to https://zambianw.com

Now, using its censorship spooks from Zambia Information Technology and Communication Authority (ZICTA), it looks like government is quickly devising new munitions to completely put down the WATCHDOG.

This move does not settle well with the Zambian electorates who are rightly suspicious that President Sata wants to run a highly secretive regime, even to a point of shamelessly taking the nation back to a point where the civil service jobs are infiltrated by intelligence security personnel.

Without the Watchdog, Zambians will be left to consume pro-government announcements in the now compromised tabloid The Post Newspaper and government owned broadsheets, Zambia Daily Mail and Times of Zambia that hardly give people any freedom of talking back even on their online versions. People will also be like zombies—never to say anything of dissatisfaction against the President or his government, as desperation leads PF to recruit special operatives to stop what information minister Kennedy Sakeni calls sensitive state documents from government offices.

President Sata has already killed the freedom of expression and association in the country, using the colonial law of Public Order Act so that police deny all political parties permits to hold public meetings.

Private radio stations have also been put under a magnifying glass and are not safe place for free flow of opinion on public matters. Opposition political leaders are endangered species and those who dare visit these radio stations to make statements do so at their own peril.

Intolerance from PF terrorists abounds. Recently Alliance for Better Zambia (ABZ) leader Frank Bwalya, a Catholic priest who helped Sata and the Patriotic Front in his campaigns to make Zambians disdain and vote out the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) had his day of being embarrassed by PF terrorists. This is when he was attacked and drenched in pours of Chibuku, an opaque beer of grain by youths from the PF right inside the Ichiengelo radio station that he used to run and utilised to campaign for Sata.

A University of Zambia radio station was threatened of closure by the ministry of information and broadcasting for airing programmes and reaching out to the audience allegedly not permitted by the broadcast license issued to the institution.

People who have publicly denounced the President for awkward decisions that are laughable have found themselves bundled to police and charged. One senior economist at Ministry of Finance is still facing uncertain fate for questioning the intelligence of Sata over his unbudgeted for projects in public.

Not long ago, PF political hoodlums wielding all sorts of missiles attacked members of the civil society, clergy and ordinary citizens who had gathered in Church to reflect on government withdraw of fuel and maize subsidies. The attack also set a tone of the brutal and senseless intolerance that those with any view different from government will be subjected to.

Up-to-date there has been no mention of the issue or an apology from Sata, a sad sign of silence ordinary citizens view as clear endorsement of violence by the President himself.

With Sata and the PF leadership stopping at nothing to silence media that covers news government does not want to hear and gagging all other available means for citizens to voice dissent, the nationals in the country are left to follow their leaders blindly without asking why.

It is bad for democracy and this will not give the Patriotic Front a honeymoon to 2016 when the country returns to the polls to test the popularity of Sata and his PF gang that became the second political party to form government in 22 years of multiparty democracy.