Zambian authorities should refrain from detaining members of the press and should ensure journalists can cover protests without fear of arrest, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On March 10, authorities detained Namo Phiri and Abel Musonda, journalists at the privately owned broadcaster Millennium TV, while they covered a protest by opposition members at the Civic Center in the capital city of Lusaka, according to media reports and both journalists and station manager Mary Mbewe, all of whom spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Phiri told CPJ that they were covering the protest when a senior officer arrived at the scene and ordered police to “just pick everyone, arrest them.” Authorities held the journalists alongside protesters for about six hours, and then released them without charge, Phiri and Mbewe said, adding that the protesters were held for much longer.
“Zambian police must ensure that journalists are not swept up in mass arrests at protests and should investigate the detentions of reporters Namo Phiri and Abel Musonda,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal, in New York. “Those responsible for detaining and harassing the journalists must face consequences, to show that such actions are unacceptable.”
Phiri told CPJ that she “tried saying let me do my job but they [police] stopped us from filming. They picked [up] everyone, including those that were just passing by.”
Phiri told officers that she had her press ID in her car, but they did not listen to her, she said. Musonda said that police confiscated the phone he used to film the protest.
Police mocked Phiri and Musonda during their detention, Phiri told CPJ, saying one officer told her that she could “write news from the cells.”
Authorities released the journalists about six hours later, after Mbewe intervened. Police returned Musonda’s phone the following day, he told CPJ, adding that it was not password protected.
“My reporter [Phiri] is so traumatized,” Mbewe told CPJ. “I don’t know what counseling I can get for her. It’s traumatizing to be thrown into cells with all manner of criminals.”
A police statement reviewed by CPJ named Phiri and Musonda among those charged with unlawful assembly. However, Zambia police spokesperson Danny Mwale told CPJ via messaging app that their names were “mistakenly added” and they had not been charged.