The International Press Institute has expressed concern over the arrest and upcoming trial of Zambia Post newspaper Editor Chansa Kabwela.
The group reportedly said the Zambian government is using trumped-up criminal charges as a tool for intimidating and harassing journalists critical of the government.
Kabwela, whose trial is to begin August fifth, is charged with distributing obscene materials in order to corrupt what the government called the morals of society.
She reportedly sent pictures to government officials of a woman whose baby died while giving birth outside of a hospital during Zambia’s long nurses’ strike this year.
Sam Mujuda, legal counsel and deputy editor-in-chief for Post newspaper said the newspaper felt it was doing a citizen’s duty by sending the pictures to Vice President George Kunda.
“When we saw the pictures as editorial management, the pictures were quite disgusting; they were quite gruesome, quite shocking. And we decided that we could not publish them in the newspaper…so we decided that the most important thing was to bring it to the attention of the authorities,” he said.
Mujuda said the Post editors sent the pictures to Vice President Kunda because they wanted the government to take action to end the protracted nurses’ strike.
“We decided to send them to the Vice President because we felt the government was not doing anything tangible to resolve this strike action… so we felt there was need for the government to take this case quite seriously…so we felt we did a noble duty, apart from being journalists, but as members of society,” he Mujuda said.
He denied that the Post newspaper was making a political statement by sending the pictures to the vice president.
“We sent these pictures in secrecy. This issue was never discussed until the president came out openly at his press conference to discuss about those pictures,” he said.
Mujuda accused the Zambian government of looking for ways to shut down the Post newspaper.
“The president did not see the suffering of that woman. I think it is him who has decided to bring politics into it. He’s bringing politics to it because it’s the Post newspaper that brought it out. The president is on record as having vowed to make sure that the Post is closed,” Mujuda said.
Former Zambian Information Minister Mike Mulongoti, speaking in his capacity as an independent Zambian citizen, said Editor Kabwela violated Section 177 [1A] of Zambian law.
“The law prohibits receiving, circulating, [and] possession and once you are found with them, you must now justify why you are found with them,” he said.
Mulongoti denied the Post accusation that the arrest of Kabwela was yet another move by the Zambian government to shut down the Post.
“Well, I do not know whether the indictment is against the Post or against the editor because she’s the one who wrote the letter which accompanied these pictures. And this is why they went for the author of the letter,” Mulongoti said.He said Zambian courts are independent, and that Editor Kabwela is innocent until proven guilty by the prosecution.