In response to the announcement today that the independent broadcaster Prime TV will be suspended for 30 days, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa said: “The suspension of Prime TV is a ploy to muzzle independent voices in Zambia and to undermine the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. It is clearly intended to send a chilling message that journalists need to self-censor or face dire consequences. 


“This unlawful suspension must be immediately lifted to allow Prime TV to continue telling the Zambian story as it unfolds. Zambia can only benefit from the plurality of media voices.”
Background

The Independent Broadcasting Authority informed Prime TV of its suspension for 30 days earlier today, citing failure to comply with the conditions of its broadcasting license by the station.
Media freedom has been under attack in Zambia in recent years. In 2016, authorities sanctioned the closure of the The Post newspaper, one of the country’s longest serving independent newspapers. Its owner, Fred M’embe, and news editor, Joseph Mwenda, had been previously brutalized by the police for the newspaper’s critical reporting. 


For more information or to request an interview, please contact:
Robert Shivambu, Media Manager – Amnesty International – Southern Africa on +27 11 283 6000 or +27 83 437 5732 or robert.shivambu@amnesty.org

Social media should have brought more freedom of speech to Africans, but governments seem bent on gagging online expression.

First Tanzania forced bloggers to pay $900 a year, then Uganda imposed a tax on social media use. Cameroon regularly blacks out the internet to suppress dissent in its anglophone region. Now Zambia’s government plans to enforce new rules to regulate social media use in the country where observers are increasingly concerned about Zambians’ shrinking freedoms.

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The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) joins journalists, bloggers, and activists in Zambia to call on the government to develop and adopt a transparent, inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach in enacting internet policies that will ensure that the people of Zambia have access to a free and open Internet. This approach will ensure that citizens’ online rights are protected. 

Authorities in Zambia are about to introduce before parliament, three bills that are meant to regulate the Internet and in particular social media. The proposed bills are: the Cyber Security and Cybercrime Bill, Data Protection Bill and Electronic Commerce and Transactions Bill. Sadly, the process of drafting these laws has been secretive and non-participatory, prompting fears that the laws will contain repressive elements that are likely to be used to stifle freedom of expression online. 

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The Bloggers of Zambia join the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day to end impunity for crimes against journalists with a call for Zambian authorities to take real measures in guaranteeing safety and security of journalists and bloggers.

We note with a heavy heart that impunity and various forms of crimes against journalists and bloggers have continued to happen in Zambia while perpetrators go unpunished. Journalists in Zambia have continued to face threats and attacks and this is often instigated by government officials and political party actors.

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ZICTA’s statistics show that there is massive local demand for mobile internet, but is the service up to standard?


According to Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA). The number of Zambians using mobile internet has risen to 7.91 million from 7.10 million in less than a year. 


The increase is attributed to more affordable data service packages on the market. A 5 GB data bundle now costs less than ZMK 100, which previously would have purchased less than 2 GB. 


MTN Zambia, Airtel Zambia and Zamtel all say the reduction is made possible by the increase in data penetration and the rise in the number of data customers. Incentives being introduced include free data bundles for recharging phones.


Recent statistics released by the regulator suggests that the country, with a population of 16 million, is home to 13.4 million subscribers, representing a penetration rate of 81.92 percent.
MTN Zambia leads the market with approximately 6 million subscribers, followed by Airtel Zambia with 5 million and Zamtel with just over 2.2 million customers.


The number of mobile internet users in the country has increased to 7.7 million from 7.1 million, representing a 47.08 percent penetrate rate.
Operators have reduced the cost of data bundles by over 70 percent and this is understood to have fuelled the increase in users. 

What’s your say on mobile phone operators data service?

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia and Bloggers of Zambia have noted with trepidation the cabinet decision to pass legislation that will increase the cost of internet use by introducing a 30 Ngwee tariff on Internet voice calls in Zambia. 

We are also worried with the fast speed at which the government is moving to enact the Cybercrime and Cyber Security Bill aimed at regulating Internet usage, especially social media in Zambia.

We are concerned about the proposed tariff of 30 Ngwe per day because it is a major threat to freedom of expression, access to information, media rights, freedom of assembly online an affront to the enjoyment of digital rights.

The cabinet approval of the issuance of a Statutory Instrument that will facilitate the introduction of the tariff to be charged through mobile phone operators and internet providers is an affront to net neutrality, and affordable connectivity.

This is a form of double and punitive taxation and taxing individual users in lieu of the social media companies that actually make money. We are concerned about this proposal because it falls within a pattern of government clampdown on online expression as we have noted of late.

We want to state that the proposed 30 Ngwee tariff on Internet calls will limit access to basic rights and it will harm businesses.

The proposed tariff on Internet calls is a threat to entrepreneurship and innovation as many youths and other citizens are using the Internet platforms to advance their socio-economic activities. Citizens across the country mobilise themselves using Internet calls. Why should we make this expensive in the midst of already over-taxed residents, coupled with high poverty levels?

We are of the view that the underlying objective in the passing of this legislation is to stifle free expression rights of millions of Zambians who increasingly depend on online tools to communicate. We believe that this is a systematic attempt of censoring online platforms.  

Recently, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) fined Zambia’s three mobile phone service providers for offering poor services. This is evidence that citizens have been receiving expensive and low quality services, hence taking advantage of cheaper Internet calls.

We challenge telecommunication companies to comment on the proposed tariff and state whether they are not making profits from the current business environment.

Additionally, we ask whether there been any complaint from service providers citing major loss of business because citizens are making Internet calls. Citizens pay for both data and airtime. We also request for statistics and the evidence to warrant the tariff.

With regard to the Cybercrime and Cyber Security Bill, our view remains that the process of enacting these laws must be made open and transparent for input from citizens, bloggers, journalists and activists.

The process of drafting internet laws has been closed and non-participatory, prompting suspicions that the laws contain clauses that will close internet spaces. We have noted that similar Internet laws in Egypt, Tanzania and Kenya have caused so much consternation as some of the clauses in the laws are purposely vague and they do not promote free speech and freedom of assembly online.

We demand that the process of enacting the Access to Information law and operationalisation of the Media and Communications Policy be expedited together with the cyber laws.

We call on government to withdraw the tariff and rather consider investing in the sector to ensure that all Zambians have access to affordable, reliable and open Internet.

We also call upon bloggers, journalists and activists to join our clarion call for a free, open and safe internet ecosystem for all, including women and girls. Our campaign both on Facebook and Twitter is using the hashtag #OpenSpaceZM.

he African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) joins journalists, bloggers, and activists in Zambia to call on the government to develop and adopt a transparent, inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach in enacting internet policies that will ensure that the people of Zambia have access to free and open Internet. This approach will ensure that citizens’ online rights are protected.

Authorities in Zambia are about to introduce before parliament, three bills that are meant to regulate the Internet and in particular social media. The proposed bills are; the Cyber Security and Cybercrime Bill, Data Protection Bill and Electronic Commerce and Transactions Bill. Sadly, the process of drafting these laws has been secretive and non-participatory, prompting fears that the laws will contain repressive elements that are likely to be used to stifle freedom of expression online.

Civil society organisations such as MISA Zambia, Bloggers of Zambia and the Zambia Centre for Social Development (ZCSD), through the #OpenSpaceZM campaign, have been urging to the government of Zambia to actively involve journalists, bloggers, civil society actors and citizens in the formulation and the drafting process of the proposed cyber laws in the country.

However, the government has not heeded to these calls to publicise the bills. The bills if passed in their current state   would have serious repercussions for the enjoyment of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, media rights and access to information online.

Although the President Edgar Lungu’s government has assured the public that the objective of the bills is to protect citizens’ Internet rights and freedoms, recent actions by state officials do not engender and guarantee trust owing to the fact that a number of violations have been perpetrated against individuals with dissenting opinions.  State actors continue to issue threats against social media users that government will   introduce laws that will require administrators of WhatsApp groups to register their platforms.

In Zambia, the Internet is considered to be the only space available for citizens to enjoy their right to freedom of expression and assembly. This is because the government uses laws such as the Public Order Act and Penal Code to clamp down on critical media and to infringe on citizens’ rights.  The country’s media regulator, Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has also been responsible for the withdrawal of licence of private TV and radio stations that are critical of the government.

While AFEX acknowledges that online harassment and identity/data theft are legitimate threats that need to be controlled to guarantee citizens’ safety and security, we believe that this important exercise should not be left in the hands of the government alone, without the involvement of other key stakeholders.

AFEX is seriously concerned that the formulation and passage of these laws without due consultation with the general public will pose a grave threat to fundamental human rights including freedom of expression online in Zambia.

AFEX urges President Edgar Lungu to prioritise Internet rights and freedoms of citizens in accordance with national, regional and international frameworks. We call on him and the leadership of Parliament to make public the proposed bills for scrutiny and review by the general public to ensure that they promote democracy.

For more information about this statement or AFEX, please contact Felicia Anthonio info{@}africafex.org, or visit the AFEX website at www.africafex.org.

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