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Zambian Watchdog Website in Jeopardy

Categories: Sub-Saharan Africa, Zambia, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Media & Journalism, Politics, Technology, Technology for Transparency Network

On May 9, 2012, visitors to the citizen media site Zambian Watchdog [1] were met with “page not available.” Zambian Watchdog reported that [2] its website was the target of a denial of service (DDoS) attack, allegedly by the government.

Earlier this year it was reported that the Zambian government had released K5 billion or US$1 million [3] to send police and security staff abroad to learn to hack websites. In April, Zambian Watchdog listed several measures [4] taken by the government to crackdown on Internet users in Zambia.

On October 2, the Zambian Registrar of Societies, Clement Andeleki, gave Zambian Watchdog 48 hours [5] to provide a physical address or face de-registration. An article on Zambian Watchdog explains:

According state owned but PF controlled ZNBC TV2 news for Tuesday 18 hours, Andeleki says the Watchdog should also pay K18 million to his office as statutory obligation.

Andeleki told reporters during a press briefing in his office that the Watchdog was registered in 2002 but did not provide a physical address.

Zambian Watchdog responded [5]to the request for a physical address with a virtual one:

Editor’s response: our address is www.zambianwatchdog.com, our contact detail is editor@zambiawatchdog.com

After receiving the threat of de-registration, the site pointed out [6] that the Zambian Watchdog the government said registered in 2002 without a physical address is a government sponsored fake called “Zambia For Watchdog” but trading as Zambian Watchdog in order to implicate the news website.


Notice from the Registrar of Societies to cancel the “fake” Zambian Watchdog certificate of registration. Image used with permission from zambianwatchdog.com.

Commenting on the 48-hour ultimatum [8], mtu-wa-mezi said [9] [the site does not have permanent links for individual comments]:

In a country with limited media channels, no community halls, etc one only needs the introduction of more watchdogs. Really there is much that we learn and share we the bloggers.

If the website is blocked in Zambia, those living abroad will use emails to share its articles, said [9] Mpangula:

if u manage to block them in Zambia, us ouside zambia will be posting their articles to e-mails in Zambia. u shall see How these will circulate like HOT Cakes. are u also going to tell us to pay for peddling in the Zambianwatchdog stories.

Bwalya Koni joked [9] about Zambian Watchdog's physical address:

we operate from your servants quaters. WI-FI connection we get from your house.

When some netizens argued that Zambian Watchdog should pay taxes, a reader by the name of New Age asked [9]:

How much tax does zambia get from facebook?

The Zambian President and several government ministers have openly attacked the site on many occasions. Early this year, the Zambian President sued Zambian Watchdog for defamation.

Graph of the distribution of DDoS attacks on Zambian Watchdog. Image source: zambianwatchdog.com.

On Thursday, October 4, Levi Kabwato, the Regional Programme Specialist for Media Freedom Monitoring & Research at the Media Institute of Southern Africa issued a statement [10] in support of free speech online saying:

[…]instead of clamping down on the alleged offenders by either sneaking in laws without much public awareness or using some obscure legislation to target such media, these governments – and indeed those in the rest of the region which have also previously registered discomfort with the Internet – must recognise that the online publishing phenomenon is not only irreversible but, perhaps more importantly, beneficial to the promotion and protection of democracy, fundamental human rights and good governance.