30 July, 2013

Lusaka Times

29 July 2013

The Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI) and the Southern African Litigation Center have petitioned the United Nations and African Commission special rapporteurs on freedom of expression for their urgent intervention in the case of Zambian journalist Wilson Pondamali.

Wilson Pondamali is an investigative journalist who was arrested on 16 July 2013 and charged with possession of military pamphlets. While he was granted bail, Zambian police continued to hold him in Mpima Remand Prison in Kabwe, claiming that he has attempted to escape from lawful custody. He has since also been charged with causing damage to government property – they claimed Mr Pondamali damaged a police car door handle. On 22 July, he collapsed in his police cell and was admitted to hospital where he is currently being treated for pneumonia while under tight police custody, handcuffed to his hospital bed.

MLDI and SALC believe that the true reason for his arrest is a suspicion that Mr Pondamali has links with the independent news website, Zambian Watchdog. The website, which offers independent news and is often critical of the Zambian government, frequently suffers denial of service attacks, making it inaccessible to users in Zambia.

Two other journalists, Thomas Zyambo and Clayson Hamasaka, were arrested on 9 July 2013 on similar suspicions. Mr Zyambo was charged with sedition and was due to appear in court on Friday 26 July 2013. Mr Hamasaka has been questioned on grounds of suspicion of sedition twice so far, but has not yet been charged. Equipment belonging to the three journalists – including laptops, mobile phones and other possessions – has been confiscated.

MLDI and SALC have petitioned the African Union and UN special rapporteurs to declare that Mr Pondamali’s continued detention violates his right to freedom of expression and liberty, and secure his immediate release.

Pondamali’s wife has demanded that the police should release her husband because he is sick and the polce do not have a real charge for him.

MISA Zambia chapter chairperson Nalumino Nalumno in Lusaka during the MISA Annual General Meeting held over the weekend demanded that the police must release Pondamali immedately because his arrest was politically motivated.

Catholic Media Services director Father Paul Samasumo said the PF government should stop hacking online media because this is the kind of media for the future.Samasuma said the arrest of online media journalists was a threat to the development of the media in Zambia.

Meanwhile Pondamali was expected to be released from hospital today but Doctors have advised that he could be released tomorrow.

Clayson Hamasaka was this afternoon charged with possession of obscene materials. Police claimed they found porn on his laptop which they have had for over two weeks as part of their investigations. Hamasaka is currently detained as his lawyers are trying to secure a police bond for him.

Thomas Zyambo who was also summonded today has had his bond extended and he will appear in court next week Tuesday. Officers asked him to take down some fresh notes to compare with those notes they confiscated after searching his house but he refused to comply.