Zambia – Media Repression

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As the government extends the state of emergency there are concerns that it is being used to stifle independent media. 

The Independent Press Institute (IPI) on July 5th expressed concern over the imposition of emergency powers and comments made by the Inspector-General of police, Kakoma Kanganja, that some media publications could be closed while the 90-day state of emergency was in place.

On July 5th, Zambian President Edgar Lungu initiated a “state of threatened public emergency” and indicated that he might declare a full state of emergency if the “existing situation” in the country is “allowed to continue.”

The move came amid a string of arson attacks, including one that burnt down Lusaka’s main market. Lungu alleged that supporters of the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) were behind the attacks.

On July 11th the National Assembly approved emergency powers and extended the state of emergency for 90 days, although the vote was held without 48 UPND members who had been suspended after they reportedly boycotted an address by Lungu.

Inspector-General Kanganja said that some media publications could be shut down. “During this period, police will regulate and prohibit publication and dissemination of matters [that are] pre-judicial to public safety,” he said.

Others commentators have expressed concern that the emergency powers are politically motivated. IPI Director of Advocacy and Communication, Steven Ellis said, “the partial state of emergency would seem to be part of a broader effort that we have observed to silence critical voices, including the country’s remaining independent media outlets, and to step up the crackdown on the main opposition party, while at the same time fending off challenges from within his own party.”

“We fear that emergency rule could facilitate human rights violations and we call on Zambia’s government to respect the vital role of media freedom in a democracy and to refrain from exerting political pressure on the country’s media outlets,” Ellis continued.

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Edgar Lungu – Ventures Africa

Zambia has often been regarded a model for stability, democracy and human rights in Africa, but events surrounding the disputed August 2016 general elections, in which President Lungu was re-elected to a second term, have raised concerns about the state of democracy and media freedom.

UPND leader Hakainde Hichilema, who narrowly lost the 2016 presidential election to Lungu, has been arrested on treason charges after his motorcade allegedly blocked Lungu’s presidential motorcade in April 2017.

In worrying signs, the independent media has largely been suppressed. Tabloid newspaper The Post was closed in late 2016. In February 2017, a warrant was issued for the arrest of Post owner and Editor-in-Chief Fred M’membe.

In August 2016, the government also suspended the operating licences of the country’s largest privately-owned television channel, Muvi TV, and two private radio stations on “national security” grounds, although the suspensions were lifted after the broadcasters apologised.

The government later acknowledged that the broadcasters were targeted because of their perceived bias against Lungu’s Patriotic Front (PF) party before and after the elections, reported the Independent Press Institute.

Earlier in June African Arguments commented that with 48 opposition MPs suspended, an opposition leader in jail, and clear signs of growing authoritarianism, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) still decided to agree an aid package of US$1.2bn, only strengthening further Lungu’s position.

Some analysts have said that real debt in the country stands at around $30bn, in contrast to figures quoted by Finance Minister Felix Mutati of $7.2bn. Based on projections from current economic growth rates, some analysts claim that the country will not be able to pay off the debts in a sustainable way, according to Zambia Reports.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ZAMBIA: Slide To Dictatorship?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 6, Pp. 21465A–21466C

ZAMBIA: Hakainde Hichilema Arrested
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 4, Pp. 21396C–21397A|

ZAMBIA: Re-Election Bid?
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 1, Pp. 21287C–21288C

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