Zambian president challenged over violation of freedom of speech
The Zambian courts are defying the regional and international guarantees of freedom of expression that Zambia has signed, Zambian President Rupiah Banda has been told. This follows the conviction and imprisonment of the editor of the Zambian Post, Fred M’mbembe, on Friday June 4.
He was released on Tuesday from Lusaka Central Prison on bail of €3 220 pending the outcome of an appeal. He was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to four months’ hard labour.
Pansy Tlakula, South Africa’s chief electoral officer, wrote to Banda in her capacity as the African Union’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information in Africa, expressing concern about the decision to jail the editor and about the ‘astronomical amount” set for bail.
She appealed to Banda to pardon M’mbembe because the laws on which his conviction was based were at odds with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. She also urged Banda to repeal the law.
M’mbembe’s conviction came days after the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights passed a resolution expressing concern about the continued violation of freedom of expression on the continent.
The case against M’mbembe started last year when the news-editor of the Post, Chansa Kabwela, received photographs of a woman giving birth outside a hospital during a nurses’ strike. The baby later died of suffocation.
Kabwela did not publish the pictures but sent copies to some politicians, including the country’s vice-president, to highlight the eff ects of industrial action on public health.
Banda took exception to it and ordered Kabwela’s prosecution. She was charged with distributing obscene material with intent to corrupt, but she was acquitted. The government then took aim at M’mbembe, who had criticised Kabwela’s case during the trial.
Meanwhile M’mbembe expressed his gratitude for the support he had received from fellow journalists. ‘I have received more than the support I thought I would get and I deserve.”