Brussels, October 16th, 2017 (SIGNIS). Media houses in Zambia undergo almost daily intimidation. The public opinion insists that media houses must be allowed to operate freely as part of the democratic process that ensures checks and balances in any country.

Last Friday, Zambian Government blocked local access to both Barotsepost.com and RadioBarotseland.com. It also arrested citizens for possessing Boratsepost.com news excerpts. These last months, the government has become repressive on dissenting and opposing views in the media, and blocked national access to websites critical of their deteriorating poor governance record and those of the opposition political parties. Journalists suspected to be writing for these websites have also been arrested.

Already in June 2017, the president of the Zambian Catholic bishops’ conference joined other religious leaders in deploring worsening tensions in his country, accusing its president of intimidating opponents and silencing the media. What the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) had foreseen a year ago, after the electoral violence, became unfortunately reality.

During its media day, Bishop Chinyemba,OMI, had remarked that the media in the country should be allowed to operate freely, stating that intimidation and harassment of the media is not desirable in a democracy. He said that if the media is intimidated and closed, injustices will become a norm as there will be no one to expose them. Bishop Chinyemba,OMI, has further reminded government that freedom of the press demands respect and protection of the right to obtain and publish information or opinions without government censorship.

ZCCB Secretary General Fr Cleophas Lungu said that the Church cannot proclaim the gospel without the media, adding that the media plays a critical role in shaping the nation and thus should be protected and allowed to freely operate. Archbishop Telesphore Mpundu of Lusaka and leaders of the Council of Churches of Zambia and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia said in a statement in June 2017 that the country is at a crossroads as it faces “many challenges related to governance, the muzzling of people’s freedoms and human rights violations.”

“Media harrassment in Zambia is evolving and becoming more devious” says Fr. Paul Samasumo, SIGNIS Vice-President. “African governments now harass the media through unreasonable corporate and other taxes thus driving private media out of business. Many times, prominent politicians (aided by a complaint judiciary) endlessly sue journalists using archaic insult laws. The journalists saddled with high legal costs and spending half of their productive time trotting from one court to another literally become exhausted by the damaging debt’, he added.