MISA Zambia has condemned attacks on journalists by political party cadres around midnight on Tuesday. The seven journalists from various media houses were heading to the totalling Centre of the Chilanga by-election when the cadres suspected to be from the UPND attacked them. But UPND secretary general Stephen Kafula has distanced his party from the attacks.
However, the PF says the opposition party must take responsibility for the violence following their earlier remarks of “panga for panga” in the just-ended by election. The journalists from The Mast, News Diggers, Radio Phoenix and Prime Television were attacked about five minutes after midnight, forcing them to abandon their vehicle and scampered for safety at Munda Wanga Botanical Gardens and nearby shops.
As the crew drove passed Munda Wanga from the southern direction, two Toyota Land cruisers laden with belligerent cadres approached from the morthern direction and blocked The Mast driver, Peter Lungu, from proceeding. The cadres demanded identification from the traumatised journalists but even after being shown ZANIS press cards, the cadres started smashing the vehicle’s windows using an assortment of weapons.
They asked why the reporters were moving in a group.
“Baf***la you are the people stealing our votes; Show us your (party) symbol! Why muyenda muma group? Bring your phones; who are you calling? Ndimwe bopusa baf***la,” the cadres said.
As all the horror was unfolding, the journalists helplessly and silently crammed themselves within the vehicle. The cadres then smashed the rear windshield and right passenger window of The Mast Nissan Patrol, forcing Mast reporter Oliver Chisenga to jump out of the front seat and run for safety in the nearby grassy vicinity.
As they pulled Lungu out of the vehicle, one of them took the wheel attempting to start the car while others searched and ransacked it. However, the cadre, who had grabbed the car keys from Lungu, failed to start it and others were heard taunting that self-imposed ‘driver’ to use ingenuity to drive off with journalists on board.
After failing to start the car, another cadre suggested that the journalist be shot at but their ringleader dismissed the statement and handed the car keys to Prime TV reporter, Wells Chifunda.
“Iwe vitenge (get them); start the car, we will go with them,” said one of the cadres.
Others countered, saying: “Let us just shoot at them.”
Chifunda had his Dell Laptop damaged in the process while Lungu lost one of his mobile phones. The cadres ran away after seeing three police pick-up Land Cruisers approaching the scene, characteristic of opposition political party sympathisers.
Once the cadres had jumped in their two vehicles, the journalists ‘awakened’ and ran to seek refuge at the nearby pub.
When police officers arrived at the journalists’ point of attack, they (police officers) accompanied the apparently disoriented reporters to Chilanga Police Station where they reported the matter.
Lungu and some reporters escaped the near-death attack with minor body bruises while the rest complained of internal body pains. On board the vehicle were Chisenga, Chambwa Moonga, Melony Chisanga, Tobias Phiri and the driver, Lungu, all from The Mast newspaper.
Others were Tenson Mkhala from News Diggers, Prime TV’s Chifunda and Phoenix staffer, Mike Sichula.
And the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia expressed disappointment with the spate of acts of violence and intimidation against journalists in the course of their duty in Chilanga and Mwense.
MISA Zambia vice chairperson Hyde Haguta in a statement stated the institution was concerned with reports of journalists’ lives being threatened by political party supporters, intimidation from a traditional leader and from the Office of the President.
“According to reports we have monitored, Luapula Community Radio has been receiving demands for copies of its programmes incessantly from the Office of the President special division. At the same time, a named traditional leader who was publicly campaigning for a certain political party in 2016 has continued to intimidate sections of his community and media workers whom he perceives to be against the political party of his preference,” Haguta stated.
“We are further worried with reports that indicate that a journalist from Muvi TV Oscar Phiri was harassed in Mwense by suspected Patriotic Front party supporters on 4 June 2018 in the same area. Reports reaching us indicate that Mr Phiri was on 4th June 2018 chased by some alleged PF cadres while executing his duties of informing the public on national matters in Mwense. The incident forced Mr Phiri to run for fear of being beaten. This amounts to media censorship as the journalist could not carry out his duty because his life was threatened.”
He stated that in Chilanga, suspected UPND cadres, numbering over 20, attacked journalists who were headed for the totalling centre a few minutes after midnight on Tuesday.
“The journalists were on board The Mast vehicle which was intercepted by the said cadres who had an assortment of weapons and were using two vehicles. The cadres smashed the vehicle’s windscreen, demanded phones from the journalists and damaged a laptop of one journalists while one phone went missing during the incident. The journalists who were fished out of the car by force were accused of having stolen votes while one cadre proposed that the journalists should be shot dead,” stated Haguta.
“The journalists from various media houses were beaten with sticks and various weapons by the cadres while some journalists suffered injuries as they tried to escape, among them Oliver Chisenga. MISA Zambia demands that these sad developments must stop henceforth. Further, we are planning to present petitions to the two concerned political parties to demand an apology and concrete action to curb these acts in future as this development is likely to repeat itself.”
Meanwhile, PF media director Sunday Chanda stated that the ruling party “is saddened by attacks against journalists by United Party for National Development members. We are aware that the hardworking journalists escaped from the jaws of death last night as their attackers, UPND members attempted to injure and kill them altogether,” stated Chanda.
“These UPND members were executing the Panga for Panga as directed by the top leadership of their Party. What the journalists experienced is just a tip of an iceberg of UPND’s savagery and violence that we have always warned against and in some cases, we have been doubted by some sections of the media. Zambians, who include Journalists and media houses at large must hold Mr. Hakainde Hichilema and Mr. Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba personally liable for issuing the infamous ‘Panga for Panga’ in Chilanga…Due to UPND’s Panga for Panga, today Zambia would have witnessed journalists being murdered in cold blood by those sent by their leaders.”
However, Kafula has said it was not a fact that the cadres that attacked the journalists were from the UPND.
“Those were suspected, not that they are cadres from the UPND. Our party distances itself from that attack,” said Katuka.