For Immediate Release
13 March 1996
Zambian Editors Arrested After 10 Days in Hiding
Internet and Print Editions of Zambia's Leading Daily Banned
U.S. Press Freedom Group Launches Campaign Denouncing Escalated Attacks on The Post
New York--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan advocate for press freedom, today condemned the banning of the Internet and printed editions of Zambia's leading independent newspaper, The Post, and protests the continued legal harassment of the daily's editorial staff, including CPJ's 1995 International Press Freedom Award winner, managing director and editor in chief Fred M'membe, the latest of which has forced M'membe and his colleagues to turn themselves in after 10 days in hiding.
"The suppression of the printed and electronic editions of The Post and the continued legal harassment of editor Fred M'membe and his colleagues call into question the Zambian government's proclaimed commitment to democracy," said CPJ's executive director, William A. Orme, Jr. "The censorship of independent news reporting is especially troubling during an election year, when Zambians rely on news organizations such as The Post for information about opposition viewpoints and government actions and policies."
CPJ denounces the following incidents of detention without trial, censorship and the protracted legal harassment of the The Post''s editorial staff:
As reported in CPJ's annual report, Attacks on the Press in 1995 : "After a promising start, President Frederick Chiluba's government reneged on its promises to reform repressive legislation. Instead, it embarked on a deliberate campaign to restrict press freedom and is rapidly becoming one of the worst violators of press freedom in southern Africa."
- The Feb. 5 issue of The Post, which revealed the Zambian government's plan to hold a referendum in March to promulgate a controversial draft constitution, was banned by presidential decree and declared a "prohibited publication" under Section 53 of the Penal Code. The decree also warned the public that any citizen caught in possession of the edition, including the on-line version, could be charged with committing a criminal offense under the Prohibited Publications Act.
- M'membe, managing editor Bright Mwape and special projects editor Masautso Phiri were arrested on Feb. 6 and charged with possessing state secrets, a violation of Section 4 of the State Security Act, and possessing a banned publication. The three were released on bail of US$350 each on Feb. 7, the same day that President Chiluba ordered the removal of the Feb. 5 edition from The Post's World Wide Web site. President Chiluba's decree marks the first act of censorship of the Internet on the African continent. If convicted, M'membe, Phiri and Mwape face a maximum of 25 years in prison.
- In a separate incident, on Feb. 23, M'membe, Mwape and columnist Lucy Banda Sichone, went into hiding to avoid imprisonment on charges of contempt of Parliament after the Zambian National Assembly, on Feb. 21, found the three journalists guilty of violating the Powers and Privileges Act. The Act is a colonial law that prohibits nonmembers of Parliament from criticizing proclamations issued by members of Parliament. In the Jan. 29 edition of The Post, M'membe, Mwape and Sichone had written articles commenting on the vice president's criticism, in Parliament, of a recent Supreme Court decision. The National Assembly Standing Orders Committee sentenced the three journalists to indefinite detention until they publicly apologized for breach of Parliament.
- On Mar. 4, M'membe and Mwape surrendered to parliamentary authorities, explaining that they would not apologize to the House. M'membe pleaded with the speaker of the National Assembly to absolve Sichone, who remains in hiding with her three-month-old infant, of blame. Attorneys for The Post have petitioned the High Court, challenging the constitutionality of the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act.
Since its launch in 1991, The Post has endured military raids, censorship, arrests and numerous legal actions sanctioned by President Chiluba's government. For their exposure of government corruption, the journalists face countless charges, including defamation of the president, which amount to more than 125 years in prison.
CPJ has initiated a campaign to bring world attention to this pattern of harassment of the Zambian independent press and to urge President Chiluba to ensure an environment in which Zambian journalists can work freely. We encourage all those interested in participating to sign the attached letter to President Chiluba, then mail or fax it to CPJ. CPJ will forward the protest letters to the State House in Lusaka.
CPJ applauds the World Press Review 's recent choice of Fred M'membe as co-winner of the magazine's 1995 International Editor of the Year Award. The award is given annually to editors working outside the United States, honoring "enterprise, courage, and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the press, enhancing human rights, and fostering excellence in journalism." M'membe shares the award with Dapo Olorunyomi, editor in chief of TheNEWS, a Lagos-based news magazine.
His Excellency President Frederick Chiluba
President of the Republic of Zambia
P. O. Box 30208
As an advocate of press freedom, I write to express my concern over the persecution of the staff of your countrys leading independent daily newspaper, The Post. Managing director and editor in chief Fred Mmembe and his colleagues, managing editor Bright Mwape, special projects editor Masautso Phiri and columnist Lucy Sichone, have endured relentless harassment and an unprecedented number of legal charges since the newspaper was launched in 1991. For exercising their rights as journalists to freely express ideas and opinions, Mmembe, a winner of three international press freedom awards, and his colleagues face countless charges that amount to more than 125 years in jail.
More recently, on March 4, Mmembe and Mwape surrendered to parliamentary authorities after spending 10 days in hiding to avoid imprisonment on charges of contempt of Parliament. They were sentenced by the National Assembly Standing Orders Committee, which convicted the journalists without trial in a court of law, under the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act. They are now serving an indefinite prison sentence. Sichone, who was also convicted with Mmembe and Mwape, remains in hiding with her three-month-old infant.
Furthermore, Mmembe, Mwape and Phiri are facing charges of violating Section 4 of the State Security Act, the conviction of which has a jail sentence of 25 years, in connection with the banned printed and on-line editions of The Post, which Your Excellency decreed a prohibited publication. This decree marks the first act of censorship of the Internet on the African continent.
I strongly urge Your Excellency to annul the convictions of the three journalists and to immediately and unconditionally release M'membe and Mwape. I also urge you to revoke the ban on the Feb. 5 edition of The Post, and to revoke the colonial National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act.
Finally, I respectfully call on Your Excellency, in this election year, to intervene on the side of press freedom and to uphold your public proclamations of support for a free and independent press by ensuring an environment in which journalists may work freely and safely.
I welcome your comments and reply,
_______________________________ _____________________ Name Date
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