Zambia

Partly Free
58
100
A Obstacles to Access 15 25
B Limits on Content 23 35
C Violations of User Rights 20 40
Last Year's Score & Status
59 100 Partly Free
Scores are based on a scale of 0 (least free) to 100 (most free). See the research methodology and report acknowledgements.

header1 Overview

Internet freedom declined during the coverage period as the government blocked access to social media and communication platforms during the August 2021 general elections, where Zambians election opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema in a landslide victory. In a landmark victory, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) agreed to act within its legal authority and increase transparency around internet disruptions as a result of a lawsuit filed by a local human rights–focused nongovernmental organization (NGO), Chapter One Foundation. Authorities continued to arrest and intimidate people who criticized President Edgar Lungu online, resulting in increased self-censorship among internet users.

Freedom of expression, the right to attend peaceful demonstrations and meetings, and other fundamental freedoms are also constrained by restrictive laws. Opposition parties have faced onerous legal and practical obstacles to fair competition, especially during elections. In December 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that President Lungu could seek a third term in the 2021 presidential election, despite the constitutionally mandated two-term limit.

header2 Key Developments, June 1, 2021 - May 31, 2022

  • On election day in August 2021, ZICTA blocked social media and communication platforms, including Facebook and WhatsApp. The platforms, which were blocked for 48 hours, became available after the High Court issued a stay against ZICTA’s blocking order in response to lawsuit filed by Chapter One Foundation (see A3 and B1).
  • Beeline Telecom Ltd., which was licensed as the country’s fourth mobile service provider in February 2021, had yet to commence operations at the end of the coverage period. Beeline Telecom Ltd. was licensed after Uzi Mobile canceled its plans to operate as Zambia’s fourth mobile service provider, citing regulatory barriers (see A4).
  • Chapter One Foundation and ZICTA entered into a consent judgment after ZICTA agreed not to act outside of its legal authority to restrict connectivity and to inform the public of the reasons for internet connectivity disruptions within 36 hours (see B3).
  • Individuals are increasingly likely to self-censor in online posts for fear of being charged under the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act (CSCCA), which was passed in March 2021. The CSCCA dramatically reformed the government’s approach to online content, and has affected online speech, anonymity, privacy, and information security (see B4).

A Obstacles to Access

A1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 2.002 6.006

Zambia was among the early adopters of the internet in sub-Saharan Africa with the installation of dial-up and satellite technology at the University of Zambia in the early 1990s, though access has grown slowly since then. As of December 2021, there were 10.3 million internet users in Zambia, representing a 56.3 percent penetration rate, according to the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA).1 In contrast, DataReportal’s Digital in 2022 report identifies an internet penetration rate of 28.5 percent.2

The vast majority of internet users in Zambia rely on mobile internet subscriptions, with 10.4 million subscribers as of December 2021, according to ZICTA data.3 A 2018 survey conducted by ZICTA showed that 14 percent of mobile phone users used smartphones, and 71 percent of smartphone users accessed applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger.4

Despite increasing access, internet connection speeds are still slow. In July 2022, average download speeds were 10.27 megabits per second (Mbps) on mobile connections and 7.85 Mbps on fixed-line broadband connections,5 representing a sharp deterioration from the download speeds of 15.44 Mbps and 13.98 Mbps recorded in June 2021 for mobile and fixed-line subscriptions, respectively.6

Zamtel subscribers reportedly experienced slowed internet speeds in February 2021, which Zamtel, a state-owned telecommunications provider, attributed to vandalism of equipment.7 In September 2020, ZICTA fined Airtel, MTN, and Zamtel—the three mobile service providers active in the country—for providing poor service to subscribers. Airtel was fined 4.8 million kwacha ($245,000), Zamtel was fined 450,000 kwacha ($23,000), and MTN was fined 225,000 kwacha ($11,500).8

The “Smart Zambia” plan aims to develop information communications and technology (ICT) infrastructure to bolster the economy and ultimately make the country’s ICT sector globally competitive. Huawei was contracted to upgrade Zambia’s state-owned mobile tower network for fifth-generation (5G) mobile service in May 2019.9 In January 2022, MTN, in partnership with Huawei, piloted the country’s first 5G service platform with the goal of enhancing connectivity and speed on its network.10

Continued development of ICT infrastructure in the country should increase access. In 2017, the second phase of a project to construct communications towers across the country was launched, involving the construction of 808 new communications towers and over 1,000 second-generation (2G), third-generation (3G), and fourth-generation (4G) wireless stations. The tower project is a component of the Smart Zambia project, and the towers—developed by Huawei—are intended to increase mobile voice coverage to almost 100 percent and data service coverage from 5 to 40 percent.11

Meanwhile, the government’s Universal Access Fund has helped pay for more than 1,000 base stations countrywide, increasing mobile coverage to 92 percent of the population.12 As of July 2021, 1,009 of the towers had been built, though delays prevented the rest from being completed by the government’s targeted deadline of the end of the year.13 Other initiatives by technology companies, internet service providers (ISPs), and mobile providers are expected to increase mobile broadband penetration, including the deployment of WiMax (worldwide interoperability for microwave access) wireless broadband, long term evolution (LTE), 5G, and fiber to the premises (FTTP).

A2 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 1.001 3.003

Access to the internet in Zambia is still prohibitively expensive for some people, particularly among marginalized rural communities and lower-income individuals. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have lost their jobs or have had their salaries cut, negatively impacting their ability to access the internet.

The high costs of ICT ownership, digital literacy, and access to internet services remain major barriers to access for many people, especially in rural areas.1 During the coverage period, Zamtel was the most affordable internet service provider (ISP), offering daily 1.3 GB internet bundles at 10 kwacha ($0.82) per day.2 According to Cable, a UK-based consultancy, the average price of 1 GB of data in Zambia was $1.36 in 2022.3

Other mobile companies offer promotional data plans, such as social bundles that allow users unlimited access to social media platforms for a daily, weekly, or monthly period. Internet freedom advocates have criticized the practice of charging internet users different rates to access different content and services for violating the principle of net neutrality, though the promotions encourage internet use and help expand access in low-income areas. Airtel also offers Facebook Free Basics, which allows users to access a simplified version of Facebook for free and enables access to other websites, such as Wikipedia, WikiHow, AccuWeather, Go Zambia Jobs, and the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action.4 Zambia was the first African country where Facebook launched this free service in 2014. In 2017, MTN launched Facebook Flex, a service that allows subscribers to access the full version of Facebook for free.5

Despite the introduction of less expensive social bundles, including for students using educational tools online, and free Facebook, affordability remains a concern for many Zambians. According to the World Bank, as of 2015, 58 percent of the Zambian population lived below the international poverty line of $1.90 per day.6

In July 2019, the parliament adopted a motion to prohibit internet providers from prescribing expiry dates on data bundles to protect consumers and enhance digital inclusion.7 As a result, all three mobile service providers now offer expiry and non-expiry data bundles to customers.8 Consumer advocates have complained that the non-expiry bundles target high-income individuals because of the pricing structure.9

While access to ICTs is steadily increasing, rural areas have lagged due to the high costs of hardware and software, poor network coverage, and high levels of illiteracy. The government and service providers have invested few resources toward expanding ICT infrastructure in rural areas. Erratic and expensive electricity presents an additional obstacle to access in rural areas, where approximately 14 percent of residents had access to electricity as of 2020.10 Consequently, there is a significant urban-rural divide in mobile network coverage and internet access.

A3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 5.005 6.006

During the coverage period, the government ordered the blocking of social media platforms during the August 2021 elections. The government has also previously restricted connectivity after contested elections and during periods of political tension.

After reports emerged that the government would restrict connectivity during the August 2021 general elections,1 information minister Amos Malupenga issued a statement stating that the Zambian government would not restrict internet connectivity.2 On election day, however, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger were blocked on most networks for two days, apparently in response to an order from ZICTA (see B1).3 These platforms are the main sources of information and communication for Zambians, especially Zambian youths.4

In February 2020, the internet was inaccessible for two days in Southern Province in February 2020, with outages reported on February 19 and service restored on February 21.5 Government authorities attributed the disruption to seasonal rains.6 The disruption occurred as Zambia faced a period of political tension. The country also faced an ongoing wave of gas attacks beginning in December 2019, along with incidents where members of the public killed suspected assailants.7 As Southern Province is a stronghold for the then opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) and Hichilema’s home region,8 UPND officials speculated that the Southern Province shutdown was politically motivated.9 Misinformation about the attacks circulated broadly online.10

The last major network disruptions prior to 2021 occurred after the disputed presidential election in August 2016, when mobile broadband networks were reportedly disrupted for between 48 and 72 hours in regions that challenged the results, including Southern Province, leading to strong suspicions of deliberate government interference.11 The outage followed protests that erupted among opposition supporters who accused the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ) of voter fraud. Two mobile providers—MTN and Airtel—confirmed the disruptions but did not explain them, leaving it unclear whether the outage was ordered by the government.12

Partial state ownership of the country’s fiber backbone and state control over connections to the international internet may enable the government to restrict connectivity at will.13 As a landlocked country, Zambia’s national fiber backbone is provided by three operators: the state-owned Zamtel, the state-owned ZESCO,14 and the privately owned Liquid Intelligent Technologies (which acquired its subsidiary CEC Liquid Telecom, then Zambia’s third operator, in October 2018.)15 Zamtel operates the fiber-optic connection to two international submarine cables: the West African Cable System (WACS) and the South Atlantic 3 (SAT–3).16 MTN and Airtel lease access to the undersea cables from Zamtel, while MTN also connects directly to the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy).17 There is one internet exchange point (IXP) in the country.18 According to a 2013 report from the Zambian Watchdog, an online investigative journalism outlet, the IXP is reportedly housed in the same building as Zamtel in Lusaka, which may further enable government influence over domestic internet traffic.19

A4 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 5.005 6.006

The diversity of service providers is not significantly limited by significant legal or economic obstacles, although prospective mobile service provider Uzi Mobile stated that licensing issues contributed to its decision to withdraw from Zambia. The subscriber base in the country continues to grow as service providers introduce new products to the market and the government grants licenses to new entrants.

The Zambian ICT sector is one of the fastest growing in the country, playing a significant role in agriculture, health, media, mobile banking, governance, and education. The Zambian market for ISPs is competitive, with 19 ISPs active as of the first quarter of 2022, according to ZICTA. Three ISPs are also mobile service providers: MTN, Airtel, and Zamtel.1

In February 2021, ZICTA granted the country’s fourth mobile service provider license to Beeline Telecom, Ltd., a Zambian company. The company’s ownership structure is not known. Beeline received an extension from ZICTA to begin operations in June 2022, after it failed to start operations within the original agreed-upon timeline.2 The provider had commenced operations as of July 2022.3

In June 2020, Uzi Mobile informed ZICTA that it would not be entering the mobile market, despite previous plans to become Zambia’s fourth mobile service provider. The company had postponed the launch of its services several times, citing licensing issues with the government and continued infrastructural work. In November 2019, Uzi Mobile requested another extension, stating it wanted to roll out 5G as opposed to the originally planned 4G. The company was given a final extension to May 2020.4 ZICTA had granted a mobile license to Uzi Mobile in March 2018.5

Vodafone lost its license to provide internet services in September 2019, after shareholders failed to inject sufficient capital. 6 The company first entered the internet-data market in 2018,7 when it was granted a license to begin offering voice-over-data service.8 ZICTA said that Vodafone was not technically and financially capable of meeting the obligations of the terms and conditions of the license. 9

In 2017, the cabinet approved the introduction of a new converged licensing framework, which decentralized the provision of network and service licenses in order to enhance competition and ultimately lower tariffs.10

All internet and mobile service providers are privately owned, with the exception of Zamtel, which was renationalized in 2012 under former president Michael Sata.11 Sata’s predecessor, Rupiah Banda, had privatized the company.12 While Zamtel has the smallest share in the mobile market,13 it has historically commanded a much larger share of fixed-line subscriptions.14 It is also the only mobile operator that offers landline telephone service. MTN is the dominant player among mobile service providers, with 44 percent of the mobile market, followed by Airtel with 39.7 percent, and Zamtel with 15.9 percent, as of May 2018.15

A5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 2.002 4.004

The independence of the national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers is undermined by the legal framework that guides their activities. ZICTA is the main regulatory body for the ICT and postal-service sectors, established under the Information and Communication Technologies Act of 20091 and the Postal Services Act of 2009.2 ZICTA is nominally an independent and autonomous body.3 However, both acts provide opportunities for the minister of transport and communications—who oversees ZICTA’s activities and appoints the members and chairperson of its board4 —to interfere with its operations.

In February 2022, five directors of ZICTA were fired, allegedly for their involvement in the decision to block social media platforms during the August 2021 elections (see A3 and B1).5 In May 2021, the ZICTA board declined to renew the contract of Director General Patrick Mutimushi. The news site Zambian Watchdog alleged that the decision resulted from disagreement over the implementation of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act (CSCCA) (see C2), while the Zambia Business Times attributed it to dissatisfaction with the Uzi Mobile withdrawal (see A4).

In September 2021, the Ministry of Technology and Science was created to develop the technology and science sectors, as well as oversee all ICT functions, which used to be under the former ministry of transport and communications.6

In January 2021, former minister of transport and communications Mutotwe Kafwaya inaugurated ZICTA’s new board,7 after having dissolved its previous board in November 2019.8 When asked about the regulator operating without a board in January 2020, Kafwaya said he had “the authority to function as a board in its absence” and would appoint a board within 90 days of the dissolution.9

Some internet content is also regulated by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which oversees the enforcement of regulations in broadcast programming, including content that television and radio stations make available online.10

B Limits on Content

B1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 5.005 6.006

Score Change: The score declined from 6 to 5 due to the government’s blocking of social media and communications platforms for two days during the August 2021 elections.

On election day in August 2021, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Messenger were blocked on most networks, apparently in response to an order from ZICTA. Zambians responded by advocating for the use of circumvention tools to access the blocked platforms.1 Access to all platforms was restored two days later, on August 14, after the High Court issued a stay on ZICTA’s blocking order in response to a lawsuit filed by the Chapter One Foundation (see B3).2

The government has restricted online content in the past. During the August 2016 election period, tests conducted by the Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) and Strathmore University’s Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Technology Law (CIPIT) found that 10 different websites were consistently inaccessible, though the tests were inconclusive regarding whether the sites were blocked.3 The sites affected included a forum on drugs, a pornography hub, and a dating website for LGBT+ people, which may have been linked to the prohibition of homosexuality under the penal code.4

In 2018, a parliamentary committee on media, information, and communications technologies submitted a report before the parliament stating that neither ZICTA nor the IBA had the authority to regulate the use of social media platforms. The committee chairperson said, “regulatory agencies [should] devise means of regulating and censoring of undesirable content on social media and not to shut down social media since they have no capacity to regulate them.” At the time, critics noted that if the report was adopted by the parliament, it would mean that the government could not block platforms via ZICTA and the IBA, though authorities would still be able to block sites without the intervention of regulatory agencies.5

B2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards? 2.002 4.004

The government has been known to censor content by directing online media editors to remove material considered problematic or offensive upon request.

In May 2020, a popular Facebook group called ZNBC Top Stories was removed from the platform for unknown reasons. The group’s users supported opposition leader Hichilema, referring to him by his nickname, Bally. Many of the users, who formed new groups with similar names, alleged that that ZICTA closed the group because of its support for Hichilema.1 In July 2020, a Facebook group with a similar name also reported being removed.2

There has only been one removal request from the Zambian government to Google since the company began publishing its transparency reports. The request was made in December 2015, and the content was requested to be removed because it allegedly contained impersonations.3

In February 2019, the Zambia Police Command directed all police officers who are administrators of any social media groups to immediately delete them.4 The directive added that any officer who failed to follow the instructions would face disciplinary action. The directive said that police officers had been posting messages and photos on social media that put the police in disrepute. Then home affairs minister Stephen Kampyongo claimed that police officers were using social media to incite the public to rise against the government.5

Intermediaries are not held liable for content under the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 2021 (ECT Act), which was enacted in March 2021;6 similar safeguards were enshrined in the 2009 version of the law.7 However, a 2017 report noted that the state and its agencies approach intermediaries without following legal and policy procedures in the name of upholding national security and morality.8

B3 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 3.003 4.004

Restrictions on internet and digital content are largely transparent and proportional. For instance, under the ECT Act, service providers are required to remove content only with a court order or on receipt of a detailed complaint alleging a violation of a user’s rights; the act also establishes a dispute mechanism for such takedowns.1

In August 2021, Chapter One Foundation, a civil society organization focused on strategic litigation in Zambia, filed a lawsuit against ZICTA for ordering social media and communications platforms to be blocked on election day earlier that month. Chapter One Foundation and ZICTA entered into a consent judgment after ZICTA agreed not to act outside its legal authority to restrict connectivity and to inform the public about any interruptions to internet access within 36 hours.2

The government has passed and reviewed laws on cybersecurity and cybercrime, data protection, and electronic commerce and transactions. 3 The government claims these laws are aimed at promoting online safety and curbing abuse of social media; however, the lack of stakeholder participation and engagement in the drafting and review of these bills has raised concerns that they might infringe on digital rights (see C2).4

B4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 2.002 4.004

Growing government pressure on the media in recent years has led to increased self-censorship among journalists, both online and offline. Journalists, social media users, and bloggers increasingly write anonymously or pseudonymously to avoid harassment or the threat of legal action,1 particularly on issues regarding politics and corruption involving government officials. More social media users also restrict their communications to a private circle instead of sharing information publicly, especially after the enactment of the CSCCA (see C2).2 Most independent online news sites do not publicly share their addresses, ownership, management, or the actual names of their reporters, practices that stem in large part from fears of harassment.

A survey by Afrobarometer—an African-led series of national public attitude surveys on democracy and governance in Africa—published in 2017 found that many Zambians believe freedom of speech is being eroded, while the percentage of people who said they watched what they say about politics online rose from 62 percent to 72 percent between 2012 and 2017.3 The survey also found that only one in three Zambians felt comfortable criticizing the president.

B5 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 2.002 4.004

Both the former ruling party, the Lungu-led Patriotic Front (PF), and the UPND heavily rely on online resources, particularly social media, to advance their political agendas. Ahead of the August 2021 general elections, there was a proliferation of both progovernment and pro-opposition content online, including websites and social media pages, as well as WhatsApp groups.

Ahead of the August 2021 general elections, the PF and UPND mobilized bloggers and social media users to spread supportive narratives online, though the extent of the coordination by party authorities is unclear.1 Both progovernment and pro-opposition social media accounts have been known to publish false news. False news disguised to look like real reports or government statements has become a more prominent feature of the online information landscape in the past few years. Both the PF and UPND were accused of spreading misinformation to shape the outcome of the August 2021 elections.2

An investigative article published in April 2020 disclosed that the PF’s 2018–21 strategic plan aimed to establish a media intelligence unit for covert operations. This included equipping the PF’s media center with permanent bloggers, hackers, and reporters to control their narrative.3 Laura Miti, a political commentator and activist, noted that troll accounts created on Facebook and Twitter in May and June 2020 appeared to push the PF’s agenda and attack its opponents. Most of the accounts used names of people belonging to the same ethnic group as Hichilema. 4

In March 2020, ZICTA announced plans to fight the online circulation of false or misleading information about COVID-19. ZICTA called on social media users to share only verified information about the pandemic, and stated that the authority would support law enforcement action against people sharing COVID-19-related misinformation.5

Government institutions and agencies routinely regulate the online activity of employees or other affiliated people by threatening discipline or termination. In April 2020, the University of Zambia (UNZA), a government-operated institution, announced that it planned to make it a dismissible offense for lecturers and other staff members to use social media to post libelous materials likely to bring the UNZA into disrepute.6 Also that April, the IBA dismissed a board member after he claimed in a viral tweet that Zambia had no new COVID-19 cases because it had run out of test kits. 7

B6 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 2.002 3.003

While blogs hosted on international platforms such as WordPress have proliferated in recent years, online publications face economic constraints that compromise their ability to remain financially sustainable. The government is the largest source of advertising revenue for traditional media outlets and has been known to withhold advertisements from critical outlets.

The African Media Barometer 2021 noted that Zambia’s advertisers, in an effort to please the government, place 80 percent of their advertisements in state-owned media rather than private media.1 The African Media Barometer 2017 also noted that the Zambian government is very selective in choosing where it advertises, and most government agencies list state-owned media as the first priority for advertising. In some cases, advertising may be tied to positive coverage of the funder. In addition, some government agencies are unreliable in paying their advertising bills, potentially starving outlets of necessary revenue.2

Private companies often do not advertise in news outlets that seem antagonistic to government policies out of fear of the potential repercussions. The African Media Barometer 2017 notes that some multinational companies, such as MTN and Airtel, may attempt to influence coverage by canceling or threatening to cancel advertisements with a media house in response to negative stories.3 These trends are likely mirrored online, though in general, online news platforms are much less developed than print and broadcast media. Some online news outlets are hosted abroad and receive advertising revenue from international sources.

In August 2020, the IBA claimed that online broadcasters would have to apply for licenses from the authority and be subject to its regulations. The statement followed an inquiry as to whether Prime TV, a popular television station known for its criticism of the PF government, could operate exclusively online;4 the IBA had delicensed Prime TV in March 2020,5 though Hichilema restored its license in August 2021, shortly after assuming office as president.6 The IBA had previously stated that Spring TV, an online station that incorrectly reported that a former government official had died by suicide, was not bound by its regulations because it broadcast over the internet.7 Legal experts criticized the IBA’s claim, arguing that Zambian law designates ZICTA as the sole regulator with authority over the internet.8 The IBA once again urged online broadcasters to register with the regulator in March 2021;9 no broadcasters registered, however, because there was no framework for applying for the licenses.

B7 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability? 3.003 4.004

The online information landscape lacks diverse content from rural populations and marginalized groups such as LGBT+ people, people with disabilities, and women.

Online content producers face considerably less government pressure than their traditional media counterparts, possibly because some web platforms allow them to publish anonymously and the ICT regulator does not have the full capacity to control them. As a result, social media platforms and citizen journalists have emerged as important sources of diverse information, and news consumers have become increasingly aware of alternative, diverse voices from online sources. The Zambian blogosphere and social media are vibrant, representing diverse, critical viewpoints and opposition voices, and many mainstream journalists have turned to social media to express themselves more freely and publish articles and commentaries that would not be allowed by media houses. Zambian Bloggers Network and Bloggers of Zambia are currently the main civil society groups pushing for digital and bloggers’ rights through training, advocacy, and activism. Facebook remains the most popular social media platform among Zambians, with 2.6 million users according to the Digital 2022 report.1

Zambia’s online information space is not always reliable, in part because supporters of political parties often post false or misleading content on social media; this was especially pronounced ahead of the August 2021 general elections (see B5). For instance, inflammatory and unfounded speculation about a wave of gas attacks circulated online in February 2020, with many posts ascribing the attacks and resulting deaths to the PF or the UPND.2 Hichilema, the UPND’s leader, alleged that the attacks were “state sponsored and specifically intended to eliminate political opponents.”3

In a positive step toward combating fake news, the Alliance for Community Action, a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), launched a fact-checking project in 2017.4 Ahead of the 2021 election, the Panos Institute of Southern Africa launched a fact-checking initiative in partnership with the European Union and United Nations Development Programme to verify online information regarding the election.5

Local content from the mainstream media is available online, but the diversity of local content remains limited, particularly for those living in rural areas and marginalized groups such as LGBT+ people. Most online media houses’ content is in English.6

B8 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 4.004 6.006

Mobilization platforms are generally available to users, and social media continues to play an important role in facilitating political and social debates and discussions. However, pressure from the government and political parties, and fear of arrest and prosecution, can sometimes stifle online activism.

Political parties and activists used social media and held virtual rallies to mobilize ahead of the August 2021 general elections,1 though campaigning remained primarily offline despite limits on in-person campaigning. In May 2021, then president Lungu barred in-person campaign rallies, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. The ECZ later banned all in-person campaigning in Lusaka and several other districts in June 2021, citing violence between PF and UPND supporters.2

C Violations of User Rights

C1 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 2.002 6.006

The constitution and a number of laws threaten freedom of expression and other key rights online. The Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Act of 20161 amended the constitution but lacked many of the provisions sought by citizens, including the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.2

In October 2020, the parliament rejected the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 10 of 20193 after a national dialogue and consultation process that was boycotted by the opposition.4 Bill 10 does not seek to abrogate the protections for freedom of expression and the press under the current constitution.

A constitutional referendum was previously held in 2016, alongside elections, to seek voter approval of new amendments to the constitution’s Bill of Rights that provide specific protections for print, broadcast, and electronic media freedom, and explicitly prohibit the government from exercising control over or interfering with media activities.5 Though approved by 71 percent of voters, the referendum failed to reach the threshold of 50 percent turnout required to validate the results.6

In March 2019, then information and broadcasting services minister and chief government spokesperson Dora Siliya announced that the cabinet approved the Access to Information Bill, which has been pending since 2002.7 The bill was still being considered at the end of the coverage period.

Judicial independence is guaranteed in the constitution but is not respected in practice, and is undermined by other laws that allow for executive interference in the justice system. For instance, then president Lungu warned Constitutional Court judges in 2017 against disqualifying him from running for a third term in 2021, despite the constitutionally mandated two-term limit.8 The Constitutional Court ultimately ruled in Lungu’s favor.9

Constitutional protections have been seriously undermined in the past, such as when Lungu declared a state of emergency on July 5, 2017, following a series of arson attacks that authorities claimed opposition members had carried out.10 The 90-day period of emergency rule prohibited public meetings, closed roads, imposed curfews, and restricted movements.11 Though no specific limits were placed on online activities, critics believe the move was an effort by the then president to tighten his grip on power. The state of emergency was lifted in October 2017.

C2 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 1.001 4.004

Without constitutional protections, freedom of expression and the media are limited by clauses in the penal code that criminalize defamation of the president1 and give the president “absolute discretion” to ban publications regarded as “contrary to the public interest.”2

In March 2021, then president Lungu signed into law the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act (CSCCA), which enacts a range of changes relating to cybersecurity, online activities, and telecommunications surveillance (see C5 and C6). Several provisions of the CSCCA may restrict political, social, and cultural speech online. These include Section 59, which bars the production and distribution of content “tending to corrupt morals” and which carries a fine of up to 3,000 kwacha ($140) if violated. Section 69 criminalizes the use of electronic communication to “coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause emotional distress to a person” without defining those terms, and violators face a fine of up to 150,000 kwacha ($7,100), up to 5 years’ imprisonment, or both. Section 67 bars the disclosure of details relating to orders in a criminal investigation, without a public interest exception that would safeguard reporting on law enforcement investigations relevant to the public; the provision carries a penalty of up to 5 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 150,000 kwacha ($7,100), or both.3

The CSCCA also bans the use of a computer to disseminate hate speech, which is broadly defined in the law; violators face up to 2 years imprisonment and a fine of 150,000 kwacha ($7,100). The production and distribution of pornography carries harsh penalties, including a fine of 300,000 kwacha ($14,300) and up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the production of pornography for sale using a computer. 4

Offenses under the CSCCA may be prosecuted extraterritorially, if the purported damage occurs within Zambia but the alleged perpetrator and the computers used to facilitate the offense are not located in the country.5

In May 2021, the parliament assented to the Electoral Process (Amendment) Act 2021, which implements several reforms to Zambian election laws. The act imposes penalties on those who “without lawful authority announce and declare the results of an election.”6 Transparency International Zambia noted that this provision applies to media, civil society organizations, and individuals.7 The breadth of the provision raised concerns that it would be used to restrict online speech about the election results, though no such cases were publicly reported as of September 2021.

C3 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards? 3.003 6.006

Individuals face arrests and prosecution in retaliation for their online activity, specifically for posts that allegedly defame the president.

In June 2022, after the coverage period, Danny Kapambwe and Justine Chimpinde were sentenced to 24 months in prison along for allegedly verbally insulting the president in a TikTok video.

In April 2022, Eric Chiyuka, a journalist with the online CIC Press, was taking photographs and videos of a physical altercation between police officers and members of a church. When Chiyuka refused a town official’s orders to stop taking pictures, the official physically assaulted him (see C7). Later that day, officers tried to arrest Chiyuka in a private vehicle; he refused to take police transport and instead went to the station himself, where he was detained for 48 hours and charged with two counts of assault.1 The same month, two Patriotic Front bloggers, Joshua Malama and Victor Kapungwe, were taken to police offices for further questioning and investigation.2

In the same month, Andsen Zulu was sentenced to one year in prison for allegedly defaming the president by stating that the president was an atheist in a Facebook post.3

In July 2021, photographer Cornelius Mulenga, also known as Chella Tukuta, was convicted of libel and sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly defaming government officials in a Facebook Live video; he was pardoned in August by outgoing president Lungu.4

In May 2021, Hichilema aide Mubita Nawa was arrested and charged with defaming then president Lungu in a video distributed over social media.5 Nawa was released on bond on later that month.6 Also in May 2021, authorities arrested Chilufya Tayali, president of the opposition Economic and Equity Party (EEP), after he posted a social media video criticizing violence by PF cadres and blaming Lungu. Tayali was charged with defaming the president.7 He was released a week later.8

In March 2021, police arrested UPND official Matomola Likwanya, charging him with proposing violence and insulting the president in a video Likwanya streamed on Facebook Live. Likwanya was reportedly released in mid-April,9 though it is unclear on what terms.

In November 2020, Facebook user Alex Munganga was arrested for defaming then president Lungu on his Facebook account.10 Authorities arrested Zambian youth activist Lawrence Kasonde the same month for a video he shared over WhatsApp that criticized the PF and urged people to vote for the UPND. Kasonde was charged with insulting the president.11 In January 2022, authorities withdrew the charges against Kasonde.12

In July 2020, a court rejected an appeal to seek a ruling from the High Court and Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of defamation charges.13 Chishimba Kambwili, then the leader of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), was arrested in August 2019 on charges of defamation and temporarily detained after an online video in which he criticized Lungu went viral. In the video, Kambwili questioned former president Lungu’s association with a local businessman whose name had come up in a US–based narcotics case,14 and in an oblique analogy, likened Lungu to a dog.15

C4 1.00-4.00 pts0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 3.003 4.004

The government does not place restrictions on encryption tools, but some government regulations threaten anonymous communications. Encryption tools used to prevent unauthorized access by a third party are uncommon in Zambia. They are mostly used by journalists and human rights defenders.

The 2021 Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECT Act), like the 2009 version of the law, asserts no limitation on the use of encryption. Section 88 of the 2021 legislation prohibits the unauthorized release of a decryption key and the unauthorized release of data, while Section 89 prohibits the use of encryption to obstruct a law enforcement officer, punishable by up to 2 years in prison, a fine up to 60,000 kwacha ($2,860), or both.1

The ECT Act establishes a register of all cryptography providers. Unless they are registered with ZICTA—which is designated as the National Root Certification Authority (NCRA) by the ECT Act—a person cannot provide cryptographic services or products. Provision of cryptography services without registration is a criminal offense, punishable by imprisonment of up to 5 years, a fine of up to 150,000 kwacha ($7,100), or both.2

Anonymous communication through digital media is compromised by SIM card registration requirements instituted in 2012.3 Registration requires an original and valid identity card, such as a national registration card, to be presented in person to the mobile service provider.4 While the government stated that the registration requirements were instituted to combat crime,5 investigative reports from 2012 found that subscriber details may be passed directly to the secret service for the creation of a mobile phone user database.6 Fearing infringements on their privacy, some activists, politicians, and investigative journalists have used preregistered SIM cards. The practice, however, is a criminal offense in the country. Cybercafés do not require user registration.

Online anonymity is further compromised by the CSCCA (see C2). The law requires telecommunications companies to collect the full name, address, and identity number of all subscribers (see C2, C5, and C6).7

Registration for the .zm country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is managed by ZICTA, through its designation as the NCRA under the ECT Act, which may compromise the anonymity of .zm website owners, given the questionable independence of the regulatory authority.8 Almost all independent online news sites use the .com domain, which may stem from historical distrust of ZICTA. The ECT Act also provides the minister in charge of communications with the authority to regulate domain name registration.9 Such direct oversight of local web domains may allow the government to access user data belonging to local content creators and hosts.

C5 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 3.003 6.006

Little is known about the Zambian government’s surveillance practices and capabilities, though there is evidence that authorities are working to build their surveillance capabilities.

The CSCCA (see C2), passed in March 2021, establishes new authorities under which the government can compel telecommunications companies to intercept data (see C6). The law also grants ZICTA, which is designated as the enforcement authority under the law, to appoint inspectors who may search and seize computer systems on receipt of a warrant.1

A December 2020 report by Citizen Lab identified the Zambian government as a likely customer of Circles, a surveillance company that allows customers to monitor calls, texts, and cell phone geolocation by exploiting weaknesses in mobile telecommunications infrastructure.2

In a March 2020 State of the Nation address, then president Lungu noted that ZICTA and Zambian police are able to track down so-called social media “abusers.”3 The Zambian Business Times, a local media house, reached out to ZICTA to confirm the installation of equipment to track down social media users. The regulator referred the query to the Zambia Police, who did not provide further comment.4

In February 2018, the Zambian Watchdog reported that Huawei had begun connecting government buildings in Lusaka under the Smart Zambia project,5 raising concerns about potential digital surveillance given the company’s close ties to the Chinese government, which operates a vast surveillance apparatus.6 The chairperson of the Civil Service Commission had warned civil servants that the Smart Zambia project would allow the government to trace discussions of political issues on social media.7

In a troubling admission, then transport and communications minister Brian Mushimba stated in January 2018 that ZICTA has the capability to monitor all digital devices in the country,8 though evidence of such capabilities is lacking.

In a 2018 report by Citizen Lab, Zambia is listed as one of 45 countries worldwide in which devices were likely breached by Pegasus, a targeted spyware developed by Israeli technology firm NSO Group. Pegasus is known to be used by governments to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition members, though it is unclear if the Zambian government is a Pegasus client.9

C6 1.00-6.00 pts0-6 pts
Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy? 2.002 6.006

Service providers and technology companies are required by law to assist the government in the lawful interception of communications, though the law gives the government significant powers to compel service providers to monitor communications with limited oversight.

In March 2021, Zambia passed the Data Protection Act 2021, which establishes a strong set of data protections for Zambians. The data rights established under the law are broad, including special protections for sensitive data, though it provides broad exceptions for criminal investigations and national security purposes. The act requires personal data to be stored in Zambia, with cross-border data transfer subject to review by the data protection commissioner.1 Civil society organizations have raised concerns about the independence of the data protection commissioner, who reports to the minister in charge of communications, and the investigative powers afforded to authorities under the law.2 The Data Protection Act entered into effect in March 2021,3 though the minister of technology and science has not yet issued implementing regulations or appointed a data protection commissioner by the end of the coverage period.

In November 2021, the government ratified the African Union (AU) Convention on Cybersecurity and Personal Data Protection (Malabo Convention), which calls on signatories to establish data protections.4

The CSCCA (see C2), passed in March 2021, establishes new authorities under which the government can compel telecommunications companies to intercept data, hand over stored communications, and install monitoring systems. Companies may be compelled to do so with a court order, a warrant, or both, depending on the type of monitoring, though the law also permits broad exceptions to those safeguards.5 Separately, the law requires telecommunications companies to collect the full names, addresses, and identity numbers of all subscribers, limiting online anonymity (see C4).6

The CSCCA also mandates data localization of “critical information,” which is not designated in the law as written. The act empowers the minister of technology and science to declare information that is of “importance to the protection of national security, economic or social wellbeing of the Republic” as critical information. In addition to localization, the minster can impose additional oversight and requirements on infrastructure related to critical information.7

In its May 2021 analysis of the CSCCA, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) noted that the provisions for communications interception do not adequately impose safeguards for privacy. For instance, the law does not limit the period of validity for interception orders, opening the door to long-term surveillance, nor does it adequately protect collected data from abuse by officials who have access.8

The ECT Act 2021 (see B2 and C4) replaced a 2009 law, which had afforded the government sweeping surveillance powers with little to no oversight.9

Investigative reporting has revealed close collaboration between the Zambian government and Huawei to monitor electronic communications. An August 2019 article published by the Wall Street Journal disclosed that Huawei technicians embedded with ZICTA helped the government access phones and Facebook pages belonging to opposition bloggers. Other Huawei technicians are apparently housed in the Cybercrime Crack Squad, which monitors and intercepts the communications of criminal suspects, opposition supporters, activists, and journalists. A spokesperson for the PF said, “Whenever we want to track down perpetrators of fake news, we ask ZICTA. They work with Huawei to ensure that people don’t use our telecommunications space to spread fake news.” The spokesperson also said that Huawei was helping the government to neutralize opposition news sites. 10

C7 1.00-5.00 pts0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities? 3.003 5.005

Internet users face harassment and intimidation for their online activities. In recent years, online journalists have also been physically attacked in the course of reporting.

In April 2022, town officials knocked journalist Eric Chiyuka's phone to the ground and slapped him. Chiyuka, who works with the online publication CIC Press, was taking photographs and videos of a physical altercation between police officers and members of a church. Later that day, he was detained and charged with two counts of assault (see C3).1

In May 2021, supporters of the PF attacked two journalists who reported on an intraparty dispute. One of the journalists attacked was Francis Mwiinga Maingaila, a reporter with news site Zambia 24. Maingaila, who was left with face and eye injuries, says that the attackers seized his camera, phone, and wallet after he identified himself as a journalist because they did not want Maingaila to report on the clash between PF factions. Nancy Malwele, a reporter at the New Vision newspaper, received a minor leg injury in the incident.2

Zambians may face retaliation for their online activities, particularly those who criticize the government. Sishuwa Sishuwa, a prominent academic and commentator, faced a targeted campaign after he published a March 2021 article in online outlet News Diggers about the threat of public unrest after the August elections. Government officials criticized Sishuwa for his analysis on social media and in online articles, including by requesting his arrest for sedition.3

In May 2021, Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja threatened to arrest Brian Sampa, the head of a doctors’ association who was purportedly suspended from practicing medicine, after he attended a Zoom meeting of the association. Kanganja stated that the Zoom meetings were illegal under the CSCCA (see C2).4 Civil society organizations sharply criticized the comments, characterizing them as an attempt to intimidate Zambians and curtail their rights to freedom of association and expression.5

Women regularly face harassment and bullying in online spaces. According to the Zambia National Women’s Lobby (ZNWL), a women’s rights group, women politicians faced cyberbullying and online sexual harassment while campaigning online ahead of the August 2021 elections.6

LGBT+ people are also targeted online, though few people openly identify as such because same-sex conduct is criminalized in Zambia.

C8 1.00-3.00 pts0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 3.003 3.003

Technical attacks against opposition activists, internet users, and journalists are uncommon in Zambia. Media organizations have reported difficulty in accessing their social media accounts, sometimes attributing the difficulty to a cyberattack.

In April 2019, the online news site Zambian Eye reported that its Facebook page had been hacked and that they had no administrative access. That same month, Radio Mano, a community radio station, reported that its Facebook page was hacked, though the station managed to restore control of the page. Some other cases have been documented in the past: the Zambian Watchdog suffered a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack in 2012 that brought the site down for about eight hours. Attacks on institutions have also been reported in the past. In 2014, the website of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) was affected during a campaign by hackers reportedly based in the Middle East, who also targeted a number of government websites.

In March 2021, the government passed the CSCCA (see C2), which seeks to strengthen Zambia’s capacity to defend against cyberattacks. The law empowers several authorities, including ZICTA, to coordinate and buttress cybersecurity in the country.1

On Zambia

See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.

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  • Global Freedom Score

    51 100 partly free
  • Internet Freedom Score

    58 100 partly free
  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes