Two journalists who were arrested earlier this week over their coverage of a secessionist movement in the west of the country were released yesterday but are facing the possibility of a seven-year jail sentence or a fine of 1 million Zambian kwachas (about 150 euros) on sedition charges.
Mwala Kalaluka of the privately-owned daily The Post, who was arrested on 17 January, has been charged with seditious intention, while Nyambe Muyumbana, an assistant station manager of Radio Lyambai (a station based in the western city of Mongu), has been charged with publication of seditious materials.
Speaking to Reporters Without Borders by telephone, Muyumbana said no date has so far been set for his appearance in court. “I have no legal representation or money to pay a lawyer to represent me in court,” he said.
Kalaluka had been due to appear today before a court in Kabwe (140 km north of the capital), but the police were not ready to present their case. The hearing may now be held on 23 February.
19.01.2011 - Two journalists held after covering demonstrations
Reporters Without Borders today condemns the detention by police in Zambia of two journalists working for an independent newspaper and a local radio, apparently because of their displeasure at their coverage of a secessionist movement in the west of the country.
Mwala Kalaluka, of the daily The Post, was detained on 17 January after he had reported on events last week in Mongu, in the western province (also known as Barotseland), where the Lozi ethnic group is calling for a breakaway.
Yesterday Nyambe Muyumbana, an assistant station manager at Radio Lyambai, an independent radio station in Mongu, was also detained.
On 17 January Mwala Kalaluka was on a bus between the capital, Lusaka and the town of Kabwe (140 km north of Lusaka) when he had a conversation with someone, whose name we are withholding, on events in Barotseland.
He mentioned to his correspondent that he had also discussed the issue with the US radio station Voice of America. A man identifying himself as an intelligence security agent stopped the bus and handed him over to the police who later detained him.
He said he was “inciting violence” by discussing Barotseland with the Americans. After lengthy questioning Mwala Kalaluka was put under arrest at the Kabwe police headquarters in the early evening.
Mwala Kalaluka has condemned police brutality during the repression of the disturbances in Barotseland during which two people have died.
Mr Mwala told Reporters Without Borders' correspondent in Zambia who visited him yesterday in Kabwe he had been well treated and was well, had not been charged with any offence but expected to be taken to court Wednesday.
The Zambian authorities refused The Post deputy editor, Sam Mujuda, who is a lawyer, the right to defend the journalist on the grounds that they belonged to the same company.
"I am going to lodge a complaint with the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). It is an infringement on my client's right to legal representation," Sam Mujuda said.
On 18 January Nyambe Muyumbana was arrested and spent the night in a cell, Daniel Sikazwe, president of the Media Institute of Southern African told Agence France-Presse.
He said the police accused him of broadcasting programs inciting listeners to rise up against the authorities.
Radio Lyambai has been suspended since 14 January by the government which says it is campaigning for the autonomy of the Western province from the rest of Zambia.
“As often happens the authorities confuse the necessary investigative work of the journalist into an event with a supposed involvement in the event,” Reporters Without Borders said.
The fact of covering a story does not make the journalist a participant in it, the press freedom organization said.
“Mwala Kalaluka and Nyambe Muyumbana have committed no crime except to give full coverage to the disturbances in Barotseland.
“We demand not only their immediate release but also the dropping of any possible charges against them.”