The manager of a private television station was recently summoned by the Zambian police and accused of violating the country’s cyber laws after airing an audio critical of the government. Alfred Olufemi explains that cyber legislation is instrumental in muffling free press in many African countries.
Kenmark Broadcasting Network (KBN TV), a privately owned television station in Zambia, got into trouble after airing a leaked audio conversation allegedly between Levy Ngoma, an aide to President Hakainde Hichilema, and Joseph Akafumba, the home affairs permanent secretary. According to the station, the two top officials were heard planning to ban the opposition Democratic Party from participating in a local by-election.
A few days later, Petty Chanda, KBN TV’s manager, was called in by the police and grilled for hours at the police headquarters in Lusaka. The police confirmed to local media that they were investigating Chanda as a result of the controversial leaked audio tape, which they claim violated the country’s cyber laws.
The Zambian Minister of Information, Chushi Kasanda, while chiding the media organisation, cited the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act of 2021. “According to the Cyber security & crimes Act No. 2 of the 2021, it is illegal for a person to access, disclose or attempt to disclose to another person, the content of any intercepted communication or use or attempt to use, the contents of any intercepted communication. This is the law. It’s important that media houses bring to the fore ethical journalism standards & familiarise themselves with the Law that governs this country,” she tweeted in the heat of Chanda’s police invitation.
The Zambia Institute of Independent Media Alliance (ZIIMA) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have both condemned the police investigation.
“The (Independent Broadcasting Authority) IBA Act of 2002 is very clear on complaints handling procedure, and the police call out is, in this case, a clear abuse of state institutions by the government,” said the statement issued by Wilson Pondamali, ZIIMA consultant.
Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, said, “It is outrageous that Zambian police are investigating journalist Petty Chanda simply because top government officials were left red-faced after their alleged collusion to deny an opposition party’s right to contest elections was made public.”
If found guilty, one may be subject to a fine of up to 300 000 kwacha (US$16 500); ten years in jail; or both, according to Section 31(3) of the cyber security act.
The enactment of cyber laws has ushered in a new wave of attacks on press freedom in many African countries in the last few years. Since Nigeria’s cybercrime act was voted into law in May 2015, authorities have used the accusation of cyber stalking to harass and press charges against journalists and bloggers, CPJ reported.
In July 2020, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) court ruled that Section 24 of Nigeria’s cyber crime act violated the right of freedom of expression and ordered the government to “repeal or amend” the law, but this is yet to be done nearly two years later.
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