The Board of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) has called for renewed global solidarity with the Zambian press in the wake of attacks from the “hardening government”.

In its resolutions on press freedom in Zambia arrived at today in Durban and issued by WAN-IFRA Media Freedom Director Andrew Heslop, WAN-IFRA denounced “a systematic campaign by the Zambian government to attack and intimidate the press as a means of silencing criticism and marginalising opposition voices”.

“The Board of WAN-IFRA calls for renewed global solidarity with the Zambian press in the wake of attacks and the hardening government stance against independent, free media. The Board of WAN-IFRA denounces a systematic campaign by the Zambian government to attack and intimidate the press as a means of silencing criticism and marginalising opposition voices. It notes the on-going assault following Zambia’s August 2016 election, that has seen both legislation and state security forces used to target journalists, and recognizes with increasing alarm the government’s chilling endorsements of vicious attacks against them,” read the resolutions.

“The Board acknowledges the statements of concern from members of the Zambian media community regarding deteriorating conditions for media freedom in the country.”

WAN-IFRA regretted the closure of The Post and numerous arrests effected on journalists in 2016.

“The Board of WAN-IFRA regrets to acknowledge the closure of The Post newspaper in June 2016 and critical news website, the Zambian Watchdog, in September, along with the Independent Broadcasting Authority’s order to suspend Komboni Radio, Muvi TV, and Radio Itezhi in August of that year. Radio Itezhi eventually reopened following the election, along with Muvi TV in September and Komboni Radio in October. The Board notes with concern the charging of Joan Chirwa and Mukosha Funga of The Post with defamation in April 2016 for an article about President Lungu, and supports the continued publication of The Post’s successor, The Mast. It condemns the censoring of The Post and the continued harassment of its owner, Fred M’membe, and emphasizes the value of independent media for political transition and the democratic process,” read the resolutions.

“The Board was outraged by the assault of Komboni Radio owner Lesa Kasoma on October 5, 2016, which took place outside the station at the conclusion of its suspension. Her account of being publically stripped half naked by police, held at the police station until freed on bail, and charged with assault is a heinous attack on Kasoma’s human dignity, and Zambian journalism more broadly. Recognizing the gendered nature of this attack, the Board was concerned by Vice-President Inonge Wina’s defense of the police when this assault was raised in the Zambian parliament, but acknowledges that she subsequently apologized to Kasoma.”

The Board noted that journalists must be allowed to carry out their duties without fear.

“The Board notes with concern the July 2016 arrest of David Kashiki, photographer for The Post, as he attempted to take pictures of suspected police brutality at the offices of the United Party for National Development. Journalists must be permitted to conduct their work without fear of reprisal. The Board was concerned to hear that New Vision reporter Elijah Mumba was beaten during an August 2016 assignment, and that media watchdog Misa-Zambia chairman Hellen Mwale was summoned for questioning after issuing a statement on the assault. The arrest of Kashiki, compounded by the censorious effect of Mwale’s summoning, sends a chilling message to Zambian media, which runs contrary to President Lungu’s claim that he is a ‘staunch defender’ of media freedom,” the WAN-IFRA board stated.

“The Board denounces the November 2016 raid of Muvi TV by over 100 police officers attempting to prevent opposition figures from appearing. During the raid, police assaulted Muvi TV journalist Njenje Chizu and broke his camera. He was subsequently fined and charged with conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace. The Board notes with concern the questioning of Prime TV managing director Gerald Shawa and station manager Makokwa Kozi over a letter sent by police demanding the station hand over footage from an opposition briefing. The Board further condemns the April 2017 beating and brief detention by police of journalists Alex Musokotwane of Muvi TV and Kalani Muchima of Prime TV while at an opposition leader’s home. Zambian authorities’ efforts to intimidate journalists for reporting opposition voices are inconsistent with the principles of press freedom.”

WAN-IFRA reminded Zambia that it was a signatory to international conventions on freedom of expression.

“The Board acknowledges the April 2017 unconditional release of journalist Chanda Chimba on humanitarian grounds, but remains concerned about the persistent detention of journalists by Zambian authorities, including five Mano Radio journalists arrested on November 15, 2016 who were charged for allegedly using insulting language against two governing party officials. They pleaded not guilty but the state eventually entered a Nolle Prosequi. The Board of WAN-IFRA reminds Zambia of its obligations as a signatory to international conventions regarding freedom of expression, and it unequivocally calls on Zambia’s international partners to do more to pressure President Edgar Lungu’s government into guaranteeing an environment that better protects media freedom and the independence of journalists,” stated that WAN-IFRA board.