Zambian authorities must investigate an alleged police assault of community reporter Eric Chiyuka and immediately drop the charges of assault against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Around 11 a.m. on March 26, Chiyuka, who works for the ruling party-aligned, privately owned online publication CIC Press, was taking photographs and video of a physical altercation between municipal police officers and members of the Evangelical Church of Zambia over a disputed piece of land in the northwest town of Mufumbwe, when he was ordered to stop by town council official Gilliard Mwamba, according to the journalist and CIC Press director Edward Makayi, who spoke with CPJ by phone, and a Facebook post by the media outlet.
When Chiyuka ignored the orders and continued to report, Mwamba allegedly knocked Chiyuka’s phone onto the ground, damaging it, and slapped him, the journalist said, adding that Mwamba later opened an assault case against Chiyuka.
Later that day, a team of officers arrived at a shop Chiyuka co-owns with his uncle to arrest him; when the journalist refused to get into a private vehicle driven by Mwamba to be transported to the station, a police officer identified as Inspector Chongo headbutted the journalist, Chiyuka told CPJ.
The confrontation between Chiyuka and the police lasted about 30 minutes, the journalist told CPJ that he went to the police station himself and was subsequently arrested on Chongo’s orders and detained for more than 48 hours. Chiyuka was charged with two counts of assault to do grievous bodily harm under Section 248 of the penal code, which can carry a penalty of five years in jail, in connection with the alleged assaults on Mwamba and Chongo, the journalist said.
“Community reporter Eric Chiyuka should never have been detained and forced to spend a weekend in jail, let alone charged with a criminal offense,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Police in Mufumbwe must drop the assault charges against Chiyuka and should instead investigate the alleged assaults on him by one of their own and by a municipal official.”
Chiyuka, who is without legal representation and has not opened a case against Chongo or Mwamba, was released on police bond on March 28, after ruling United Party for National Development politician Rachael Kayoya signed for the bond, the journalist told CPJ.
Chiyuka said he pled not guilty to the two counts of assault when he appeared in the Mufumbwe Magistrates’ Court on March 30, and will return to court on April 13.
Reached for comment by phone, Chongo denied the allegations of assaulting the journalist. Northwestern Province acting commanding officer Dr. Fred Mulenga told CPJ by phone that he had not received a report of assault on a reporter or a police officer in Mufumbwe district.
CPJ calls and text messages to Mwamba did not receive a response.