Zambian authorities must thoroughly and quickly investigate the brutal attack by supporters of opposition party United Party for National Development (UPND) on Victor Mwila, a reporter with the state-owned Zambia News and Information Services, and ensure that those responsible are held to full account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On July 23, about 20 UPND supporters in the central business area of Ikelenge district, in northwest Zambia, kicked and hit Mwila using their fists and unknown objects, and grabbed his camera, his mobile phone, and 1,000 kwacha (US$52) in cash, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ by phone, and news reports.
The attack happened as Mwila was photographing a group of about 60 UPND supporters in party regalia as they beat people news reports identified as supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front party (PF) and tore down PF signs, Mwila said. According to reports, police fired tear gas at the UPND supporters, who then damaged a police vehicle.
Mwila sustained multiple head injuries, cuts on his back and chest, and soft tissue damage around his rib cage, according to the journalist and a report in local online newspaper Daily Star quoting northwestern province police commissioner Joel Njase.
Nineteen of the suspected attackers have been arrested and charged with assault “occasioning actual bodily harm” on Mwila and on the PF supporters as well as damage to property under Zambia’s penal code, Njase told CPJ via phone, adding they have yet to appear in court. He said the items that were stolen had yet to be recovered. Njase said Mwila had given a sworn statement and the case was still under investigation.
The violent episode came ahead of Zambia’s August 12 general election, in which Zambian President Edgar Lungu of the PF will seek reelection; his main contender is the head of the UPND party, Hakainde Hichilema, according to reports.
“The Zambia Police Service must speed up the process of ensuring that those behind the brutal attack on Victor Mwila are prosecuted and appropriate punishment meted out to send a strong message that violence against journalists will not be tolerated, especially ahead of the country’s general election in two weeks,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa Program coordinator, from New York. “Political parties must allow journalists to do their jobs safely as they play a critical role in ensuring that citizens remain informed.”
Mwila said he received medical treatment for his head wounds and that an X-ray found that he had no internal injuries aside from tissue damage near his rib cage.
“They could have killed me. I am still shocked that I survived. I picked myself up and staggered away. I also have a lot of cuts on my back and on my chest. Right now, I am extremely traumatized,” he told CPJ. “Nothing of this sort has ever happened to me in the years I have practiced journalism.”
UPND spokesman Cornelius Mweetwa told CPJ by phone that the attack on Mwila was unfortunate and hoped “such things will never happen.”
“We will further investigate the matter to find out what could have happened, especially as the reporter was on duty,” Mweetwa said.
The Electoral Commission of Zambia has since banned the opposition UPND from campaigning in Ikelenge following violence that include the attack on the journalist, the Daily Star reported.