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Zambian journalist released from police custody

Wilson Pondamali was detained for two weeks for alleged ties to the Zambian Watchdog news site.
Wilson Pondamali was detained for two weeks for alleged ties to the Zambian Watchdog news site.

Wilson Pondamali/Facebook

A few days after the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) called on Zambian police authorities to release freelance journalist Wilson Pondamali, from jail, the scribe has been granted bail.

On 31 July 2013, a magistrate in Kabwe ordered Pondamali's release.

The journalist, who spent almost a week in hospital, where he was chained to his bed, has now been reunited with his family. Speaking to MISA, Pondamali said he still was not feeling well but was relieved to be home.

He is suspected of having links to the Zambian Watchdog, an online publication that has drawn the ire of president Michael Sata's government. Access to the website is currently restricted in Zambia. Another website, Zambia Reports, has also been blocked.

Pondamali is facing four charges, ranging from unlawful possession of military stores to attempt to escape from lawful custody. He will appear in court sometime in October to answer some of the charges.

In a statement released at the end of its regional annual general meeting, MISA expressed “grave concern over the escalation in cases of media freedom and freedom of expression violations across the SADC [South African Development Community] region, including restrictions on access to information.”

“In particular,” the statement said, “we strongly condemn the continued detention of Wilson Pondamali. We demand his immediate release to allow the legal process to take its course.”

Two other journalists, Thomas Zyambo and Clayson Hamasaka have also been arrested and charged by police on suspicion of having links to the Zambian Watchdog. Zyambo is facing a charge of sedition while Hamasaka was, on 29 July 2013, charged with being in passion of obscene material. The two will appear in court this month.

In an interview with MISA-Zambia, Zyambo said he is scheduled to appear in court on 6 August 2013. The police informed Zyambo about his impending appearance in court when the journalist was recently called back for further questioning at police headquarters. Zyambo also said he was asked to rewrite a document police suspect was initially authored by him but he refused.

Meanwhile, Hamasaka told MISA-Zambia that he is scheduled to appear in court on 12 August 2013. He was ordered to surrender his passport as part of the bail condition. The journalist and media scholar said police had failed to show him the obscene material they allege was found on his computers.

All three journalists had their computers and other digital equipment confiscated by police in separate raids on their houses.

MISA continues to monitor the situation in Zambia.

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