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Zambia: VP “Would Celebrate” Shutdown of News Site

Vice President Guy Scott dancing with Patriotic Front (PF) party cadres during an election campaign. Picture courtesy of Zambian Watchdog.

Vice President Guy Scott dancing with Patriotic Front (PF) party cadres during an election campaign. Picture courtesy of Zambian Watchdog.

Zambian Vice President Dr. Guy Scott recently told parliament he would celebrate if the Zambian Watchdog, an independent citizen media site, were to shut down.

On the evening prior to Scott's June 25 address to parliament, it suddenly became difficult to access the Zambian Watchdog. Readers abroad claimed they could access the site, while those in Zambia reported they could not.

On Facebook, one user reported:

someone has jinxed our daily dose of gossip…the watchdog aint responding

In March 2012, the Zambian Watchdog, among other news websites, was allegedly hacked in what many suspected was a government-led attack. In last week's incident, Zambian Watchdog readers began to fear that the government was involved with the blockage when Mwamba Peni II, a government policy analyst and relative of President Michael Sata, posted on his Facebook wall that he understood from “rumours” that the Watchdog was gone for good (the post is no longer publicly visible.) A day later, the Zambian Watchdog reported on the problem:

It is not yet clear if the Internet Service Providers are colluding with the government to block access or the government is illegally accessing the physical infrastructure  of Internet service providers.

While the same domain www.zambianwatchdog.com is accessible outside Zambian and partially in Zambia through a few Internet service providers like MTN, we have moved the site to a secure domain https. If you are in Zambia, you can now access the Zambian Watchdog at https://www.zambianwatchdog.com

Data from the ZW's hosting service indicated that the Zambian government may be using deep packet inspection, a packet filtering method, to monitor the site's traffic. When asked about the government’s suspected hand in the difficulties people had accessing the site, the Vice President told members of parliament:

This is the website that has accused everyone of being adulterous, a thief, terminally ill, corrupt, and so on, so we would [be] glad to have it shut because it is denting our image abroad.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported on its website:

Staff at the Watchdog believe the government is behind the blocking because of its previous efforts to silence the site. It is not clear if the government urged Internet service providers to shut off access or used other means.

President Michael Sata has been seeking to control online news media since his election in 2011. When swearing in Attorney General Mumba Malila, he told him to look into ways of controlling news websites such as the Zambian Watchdog which has had several run-ins with the government in the past.

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