Tonight on ZNBC, the Zambian Defense Minister Geoffrey Bwalya Mwamba issued an ultimatum to the popular online news website, Zambian Watchdog, giving them one week to retract a series of news articles alleging that President Michael Sata had traveled to India for medical treatment last week or the Patriotic Front administration would “sort them out.”
According to the defence minister, President Michael Sata was not in India, but rather only visited the United Kingdom as a private citizen as allowed by normal protocol. In recent months, there has been considerable speculation concerning the president’s health status following a secretive procedure in India last March.
The comments from GBM echo earlier statements made by PF Secretary General Wynter Kabimba, who similarly threatened to shut down online media outlets for allegedly insulting tribal leaders. In recent months, the new government has cracked down hard on independent media outlets, including more than half a dozen defamation lawsuits filed on behalf of the president himself, while at least one civil servant has been convicted to a jail sentence for having allegedly insulted the president.
Mr. Bwalya Mwamba was not clear on what the consequences to Zambian Watchdog would be if they failed to retract their story on the president’s movements. Given that most websites are hosted outside of Zambia, the penalties are likely to be indirect.