Hong Kong, Jan. 23 – An unverified alteration on Wikipedia that Zambian President Michael Sata had died in an assassination Sunday morning prompted the presidency to strongly criticize online media and suspects facing corruption charges.
Wikipedia – a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit- allowed the publication of over the wire of an edited biography of President Sata claiming that the Zambian head of state had been killed.
“Michael Sata was assassinated in the early hours of the 22nd of January. He was killed through a single shot to the chest, which proved to be fatal,” read the falsified Wikipedia alteration which has since been deleted.
The alteration appears to have been done in the United Kingdom town of Crawley by unknown persons using the IP Address 188.8.131.52 through the domain name virginmedia.com with Virgin Media Limited as Internet Service Providers.
The falsified alteration was sent through a Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or Digital Subscriber Loop – a family of technologies that provide internet access by transmitting digital data over the wires of a local telephone network.
The coordinates for the altered post appeared to be 51°6’48″N -0°10’58″W while the weather station code for the alter was UKXX0816, signifying that it was done in the England region of the UK.
The falsified death claim was available and accessed worldwide early hours of Sunday.
The false report was apparently picked by news blogs that flight Zambian news and current affairs but later pulled off after State House in Lusaka issued a statement in rebuttal.
Incensed by the altered biography, President Sata’s public relations aide, George Chellah expressed misgivings and strongly blamed a named news website and some unidentified persons that are apparently being investigated on corruption charges for the claims that President Sata had died.
Chellah said State House was saddened by the malicious, sadistic and unfounded story that claimed that President Sata was dead.
“This follows the publication of an insensible and sickening article by a named uncouth website, claiming that the Head of State was assassinated in the early hours of today, January 22, 2012,” Chellah said. “As a matter of fact, State House is aware that such horrid stories are being perpetrated by certain rogue elements, with a bulk of them being investigated for gross misconduct and corruption in the ongoing crusade against graft.”
The presidency has since ordered Zambia’s security wing to hunt down and arrest publishers of online news sites and blogs that produce Zambian related content.
The order to hunt down online publications by authorities in Zambia comes barely two weeks after Wikipedia and other major global outfits staged an access blackout to protest against pieces of legislation being pushed by the US authorities regarding copyright on the Internet.
These bills are presented as efforts to stop copyright infringement committed by foreign web sites.
Opponents of the bills – including Wikipedia – have criticized the bills as a channel that would disrupt free expression and harm the Internet.
Years ago, then Zambian president Fredrick Chiluba’s photo on State House website was defaced by hackers, a case which was later taken to court after the alleged perpetrator was tracked down.
This is not the first time President Sata has been reported to have died.
Reports of his death had become common during election campaigns prior to his ascendancy to the presidency in September 2011.
Zambia’s Internet regulator, ZICTA is yet to comment on the involvement of Internet media in the latest Wikipedia alteration.