Till it's gone

“Free the internet,” hand-drawn banners demanded as a tiny clutch of brave protesters stood by the side of the road in Lusaka last Friday, with my friends and renown feminist activists Sara Longwe and Roy Clarke in its midst.

“Save the free press,” demanded those who dared stand up in public to the Zambian government’s intensified throttling of free speech in Zambia. In the current political climate this group stood up in defence of an ideal that I don’t believe many Zambians appreciate.

Recently, the Zambian government blocked access to the web-based Zambian Watchdog, arrested two of its journalists on charges of sedition and then went even further to block proxy routes to the online publication. Its editors currently operate from outside the country and its journalists anonymously.

The quality of the Zambian Watchdog not being the question here, it is one of the few alternatives to Government owned newspapers. With growing access to the Internet and the cost and technicalities of producing a newspaper being prohibitive, internet based news is a viable option for be the future in Zambia

So why did the protesters number so few? Several songs claim “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I suppose because it's still too easy to assume it’s of no great consequence if one little internet-based news outlet is shut down, and a few journalists harassed – after all, the media has always been harassed in Zambia.

But in the current context can Zambians afford to be so complacent? Can we, for instance, really believe that the government is suing mobile phone service providers because it has our best interests at heart?

Photograph: Andreas Kolleger via Flickr

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