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Zambia: Foreign Minister's Phone Tapped

Zambia's Foreign Minister, Given Lubinda, is under pressure to resign from the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. He is accused by the party's disciplinary committee of leaking information to online publications. The accusation is based on evidence that was allegedly gathered through the tapping of the minister's phone.

The case of Lubinda, a long time PF member and legislator for the cosmopolitan  Lusaka's Kabwata constituency, has attracted the attention of even state-owned media, which mostly reports officially sanctioned information.

Given Lubinda with President Michael Sata

In happier times, Foreign Minister Given Lubinda, left, with President Michael Sata. Picture courtesy of Zambian Watchdog.

But it is citizen media website, Zambian Watchdog, which reported the phone tapping used in the party's disciplinary committee hearing against Lubinda, raising the specter of wide-spread use of the technique against ordinary citizens who are being forced, as we already reported, to register their SIM cards.

The Zambian Watchdog writes:

And the Watchdog understands that part of the evidence of Lubinda’s links with opposition parties was through wire-taps of his phones, raising concern on the personal security of individuals through the on-going SIM card registration.

Sources close to the disciplinary hearing said Lubinda’s phone conversations were part of the evidence that was used against him though the Kabwata parliamentarian also raised a number of pertinent in his defence of his contacts with some opposition parties.

The Zambian Watchdog story does not say what official organisation conducted the phone tapping, but it is well-known in Zambia that the intelligence agency which is under the control of the Office of the President—in this case President Michael Sata–, head of state and also the ruling party leader, has the capacity to do it and is involved in the ongoing SIM card registration.

The phone tapping element engendered a lot of debate among readers on the news website.

A reader by the nickname of Bob writes [comments on the Zambian Watchdog do not have individual links]:

It goes without saying that all MPs and especially opposition politicians are under surveillance through wire-tapping. I need a proper justification as to why I need to register my SIM card. I would rather use a phone without full details of me with the service provider in this case. Imagine everyone registers the SIM cards and a full database is created. Then the powers that be will just scroll down / search the database and find anyone they want and then wire-tap them at their will. By the way, is it not a crime to tap someone’s phones in Zambia?

Another commenter, The Observer, writes:

SIM registration is not the issue. If done in good faith, it enhances state security. Imagine someone buying a SIM card to send you death notices, bomb scares, or false rumours about your wife or yourself sleeping around?

The problem is that we now have scoundrels and idiots in Government.

Ngana warns of the consequences of phone tapping:

IT IS UNLAWFUL FOR THE PF GOVERNMENT TO USE THE ZAMBIAN INTELLIGENCE TO SPY ON ITS OWN CITIZENS WHO HAVE DIFFERENT OPINION TO THAT OF MICHAEL SATA. TO DANGEROUS FOR OUR COMFORT, SIMPLE ISSUES SUCH AS THIS COULD LEAD TO CIVIL WAR

Indeed, if it is true that Lubinda's phone was tapped, it is cause for concern for all citizens who are being required to register their SIM cards with the Zambia Information and Communication Technology Agency (ZICTA), a government department.

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