Zambia: ISP Faces Backlash Over Blocked News Site

Digital Content

Zambian telecommunications company Airtel may be facing unintended consequences for allegedly having blocked access to popular citizen news website the Zambian Watchdog. For over a week, many people in the country have been unable to access the site.

Maiko Zulu, one of the nation’s popular musicians and a human rights advocate, wrote a letter to the Watchdog saying that he was dumping Airtel for blocking the citizen news website and would switch to rival telco MTN, where the website was still accessible.

Zulu, whose portfolio of songs includes Mad President and Gun Culture, wrote:

    Dear Editor,
    As a regular reader of ZWD online publication, I wish to register my concern over continued difficulties I and many other Zambians are experiencing in accessing ZWD [Zambian Watchdog] via the Airtel network. It is now certain, as alleged, that there is a deliberate plot to deny readers access to the site.

    As a defender of press freedom and freedom of expression, it is my duty to raise concern over such a development […] As insignificant and negligible as it may seem, I personally have resorted to putting away my [Airtel] sim card and will for now use only MTN for cellular communication.

In response to Zulu’s letter, the Editor wrote in a footnote:

    We thank you Mr Zulu. We have no conclusive evidence that Airtel is colluding with the PF regime to block the Watchdog from inside Zambia. But we do know that the blocking is taking place on Airtel and Zamtel and other Internet Service Providers in Zambia. We are getting to the bottom of this and very soon we shall publish the whole truth…

The footnote further explained that the site has moved from its original domain, www.zambianwatchdog.com, to a secure domain, https://zambianwatchdog.com. While its original domain remains blocked on Airtel, Zamtel and other networks, the Watchdog reports that its new domain is not.  “We do realise that many people in Zambia still do not know this change,” the letter said. “That is why we endorse Mr Zulu’s move of dumping Airtel and migrating to MTN.”