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Zambia: Press Freedom Action Alerts
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Zambia: Press Freedom Action Alerts
Date distributed (ymd): 960326
Committee to Protect Journalists
Press release: March 12, 1996
For more information contact:
Kakuna Kerina, Program Coordinator for Africa
(212) 465-1004 x103; fax: (212) 465-9568;
EDITORS ARRESTED AFTER 10 DAYS IN HIDING; INTERNET AND PRINTED
EDITIONS OF ZAMBIA'S LEADING DAILY BANNED
U.S. Press Freedom Group Launches Campaign Denouncing
Escalated Attacks on "The Post"
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 ten 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 Orme. "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:
* The February 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
* 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 February
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 February 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 February 21, found the three
journalists guilty of violating the Powers and Privileges Act.
The Act is a colonial law which prohibits non-members of
parliament from criticizing proclamations issued by members of
parliament. In the January 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
* On March 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
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."
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.
(For up-to-date information on the state of the media
worldwide, and CPJ's activities and publications, visit CPJ's
World Wide Web site at http://www.cpj.org.)
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 country's leading
independent daily newspaper, "The Post." Managing director and
editor in chief Fred M'membe 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, M'membe, a
winner of three international press freedom awards, and his
colleagues face countless charges which amount to more than
125 years in jail.
More recently, on March 4, M'membe 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 M'membe and
Mwape, remains in hiding with her three-month-old infant.
Furthermore, M'membe, 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 February 5 edition of "The Post," and to revoke the
colonial National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act.
Finally, I 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
[end CPJ Action Alert]
Amnesty International has adopted Fred M'membe and Bright
Mwape as prisoners of conscience and issued an urgent action
appeal on March 19 (AFR 63/02/96). That appeal suggests that
copies of letters sent to Zambian authorities be also sent to
Sakwiba Sikota, President, Law Association of Zambia, P.O. Box
35271, Lusaka, Zambia (Faxes: +260-1 223383/228947; e-mail
email@example.com). It also gives a fax number and e-mail
address for President Federick Chiluba (fax: +260-1-221939; e-
mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). Amnesty International issued the
following news release on March 26.
ZAMBIA: UN TO SCRUTINIZE IMPRISONMENT OF ZAMBIAN JOURNALISTS
The case of two newspaper journalists who were imprisoned for
writing articles critical of the Zambian Government could be
raised tomorrow, when the Zambian Government will defend its
human rights record before a meeting of the Human Rights
Committee at the UN in New York.
"Under both Zambian law and international law, the government
has not provided these journalists with a fair trial and
therefore has no right to deprive them of their
liberty," Amnesty International said in a 13-page report
Fred M'membe and Bright Mwape, editor-in-chief and managing
editor of The Post newspaper in Zambia, had written articles
critical of Vice President Godfrey Miyanda, who
made a speech in parliament attacking a January decision by
Zambia's Supreme Court that ruled unconstitutional regulations
that infringed on the right to assembly. The two men are being
held in indefinite detention until they formally apologize to
the Zambian National Assembly and plead for forgiveness.
Amnesty International considers Fred M'membe and Bright Mwape
to be prisoners of conscience and calls on the Zambian
Government to set them free at once unconditionally.
There appears to be a long-standing policy by the Zambian
Government to misuse criminal charges against journalists
with the aim of harassing and intimidating the
independent press into docility. During the past few years,
the government has been angered in particular by criticism and
negative articles published in The Post newspaper.
Government attacks against the media have intensified. The
government's threats of criminal charges, detentions for
questioning and arrests in 1994 and 1995 against Fred M'membe
and other staff members of The Post have escalated in 1996,
culminating in the banning of the 5 February edition of the
newspaper and hunts conducted by Zambian police for Fred
M'membe and Bright Mwape.
The membership of the Standing Orders Committee of the
National Assembly of Zambia -- which sentenced the journalists
to indefinite detention on 22 February -- is dominated by the
ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which
holds all but one of the seats on the Committee.
The charges of "contempt of parliament" were reportedly raised
in the Committee by the aggrieved party in the case, Vice
President Godfrey Miyanda, who is also the Committee's
deputy chair. All these factors raise concerns about whether
such a body could render an independent, objective and fair
ruling in the matter.
Note: This news release is posted by the International
Secretariat of Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London
WC1X 8DJ (Tel +44-71-413-5500, Fax +44-71-956-1157, E-mail
email@example.com) in the ai.news conference on the APC
networks. You may re-post this message onto other sources but
if you do then please tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org so that we
can keep track of what is happening to these items. For more
information on Amnesty International, including national
section offices you can contact for more information, send
email to email@example.com, an automatic reply service.
[end Amnesty International news release]
Flash Update March 27, 1996 -- The Zambian High Court has
ordered the release from prison of the two editors under a writ
of habeas corpus. The judge ruled, however, that articles by
M'membe and by columnist Sichone were contempuous of
Parliament; the issue remains to be considered by Parliament when
it resumes in mid-April.
Additional sources of information:
(1) The Media Institute of Southern Africa has also issued
periodic e-mail action alerts and updates on the situation of
the Post editors and newspaper. For more information, contact
MISA Director Methaetsile Leepile or Information Co-ordinator
David Lush at the following:
9 Mozart Street,
Private Bag 13386,
Tel. +264 61 232975
Fax. +264 61 248016
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
(2) The Post is itself available at the following Web address:
http://www.zamnet.zm/zamnet/post/post.html, although the
connection may be slow at times. Selected articles from The
Post are also available at
Material from Web or Gopher sites can also be retrieved via
e-mail by using the WebMail server (for instructions send a
message "help" to firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Agora server (for
instructions send a message "help" to
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