New York, June 3,
2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Zambian President
Rupiah Bwezani Banda and his administration to halt
the ongoing harassment of the nation’s leading independent newspaper The Post
and its award-winning editor Fred M’membe. On Tuesday, a magistrate in the capital, Lusaka, convicted M'membe on a criminal charge of contempt of court and scheduled sentencing for Friday, defense lawyer Remmy Mainza told CPJ. M’membe, a 1995 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, could face up to six months in prison, said Mainza. He said the defense would likely appeal the verdict.
M’membe’s conviction appears to be part of the ongoing harassment
against The Post
since President Banda came into office in 2008,” said CPJ Africa Program
Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “This undermines Zambia’s democratic credentials. We
call on the administration to drop all legal proceedings against The Post.”
The contempt charge, a
misdemeanor, is based on The Post’s publication of a 2009 op-ed by U.S.-based law professor Muna Ndulo. The piece called the prosecution of Post News Editor Chansa Kabwela
on supposed pornography charges a “comedy of errors.”
Under Zambian law, contempt charges can be used against
those who publish commentary on ongoing court proceedings.
government’s case against Kabwela herself fell apart last year. She was dragged
into court after mailing to several high-ranking government officials the unpublished photographs of a woman giving birth without medical
assistance during a hospital strike. She said she did so to stir the government
to bring an end to the labor dispute. Banda characterized the photographs as
pornography, but a judge dismissed
charges against Kabwela in November 2009.
CPJ has documented numerous instances in which supporters of
Banda’s ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy party have harassed and
attacked The Post and its journalists. Banda
himself is a plaintiff in a civil lawuit
against The Post
stemming from the paper’s critical coverage of his 2008 presidential run. Mainza, the defense attorney, said that case is scheduled to be
heard by the High Court on June 16.
Editor's note: The original text of this alert has been modified in the first paragraph to correct the potential prison penalty.