Zambian authorities should thoroughly investigate the recent assaults of three journalists and one radio station employee in separate incidents involving ruling party supporters and ensure that those responsible are held to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
Around noon on April 8, in the eastern district of Petauke, six supporters of the ruling United Party for National Development went to the office of privately owned broadcaster Radio Explorer and assaulted reporter Charles Chimwemwe Banda, according to news reports and the journalist, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app. His attackers accused him of collaborating to take down the government, kicked him in the face and head, and punched him all over his body.
Separately, at about 2 p.m. that day, at least 20 UPND supporters beat privately owned broadcaster Serenje Radio’s station manager Male Kapema and reporter Sheila Kalunga, as well as accountant Enoch Kile Champo, at a police station in the district of Serenje, according to news reports, a statement by Serenje Radio, and Kapema, who communicated with CPJ via messaging app. Champo drove the journalists to the police station to confirm reports of a clash between members of the UPND and the opposition Socialist Party.
“Politically motivated violence against journalists in Zambia is a serious concern, and United Party for National Development leaders must condemn the recent attacks on three members of the press by the party’s supporters,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “Authorities must thoroughly investigate these attacks. Impunity for crimes against journalists should not be tolerated in a country whose president has committed to ensuring press freedom.”
Banda told CPJ that he received a call from a number registered to “Mwika Petauke UPND,” and the caller asked to meet, claiming he had a news tip. Banda refused and asked to meet at the radio station instead.
When the six UPND supporters arrived, a party official identified only as “Mwika” asked Banda why he aired a program that featured a song for an independent member of parliament, why he had given that member of parliament airtime, and accused him of collaborating against the government. Banda told CPJ that the parliamentarian had paid for a block of airtime on the station but denied that the outlet was involved in any anti-government activities.
After he explained the situation, “they started beating me up with their fists all over the body, my face, and head,” he said, adding that the attack left him bleeding from the mouth. He received medical treatment at Petauke District Hospital for neck and general body pains, according to a medical report reviewed by CPJ.
Banda said he did not report the matter to the police as the UPND party leadership in Petauke told him they were seeking to resolve the matter by issuing an official apology, which he has not received as of April 18. CPJ’s phone call and app message to UPND spokesperson Cornelius Mweetwa were unanswered.
In Serenje, Kapema told CPJ that his crew was filming a standoff between approximately 40 UPND and Socialist Party members after allegations that a Socialist Party leader shot a UPND member.
A woman on the UPND side noticed Kalunga filming and shouted that they were being recorded, Kapema said, adding, “That’s how they ran toward up and pounced on us.” The crowd, most of whom were wearing UPND emblems, punched and kicked the three Serenje Radio employees all over their bodies.
Kalunga told CPJ by messaging app that her beating was more severe than Kile or Kapema’s, as she was the one filming. Police ultimately dispersed the crowd.
“I sought medical attention at Serenje hospital, but I’m still in pain. My back was hurt from the kicks they unleashed on me,” Kalunga said, adding that they filed complaints with the police, but no arrests have been made.
Serenje police referred all queries to spokesperson Danny Mwale, who did not return CPJ’s phone calls or messages.