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Zambian Judge Orders Editor's Arrest for Contempt

The Editor-in-Chief of The Post newspaper of Zambia – Fred Mmembe - has been ordered arrested and jailed by a chief magistrate for failing to appear in court after he had been cited for contempt.

The Post carried an opinion article last month written by U.S.-based law professor Muna Ndulo of Cornel University in which he criticized the Zambian government for the ongoing trial of Post news editor Chansa Kabwela.

Post acting editor Sam Mujuda said editor-in-chief Mmembe did not intentionally disobey the court's order.

"It is quite surprising for the court to issue the order because we feel we gave all the reasons why our editor did not come to court because he has been on study leave…and that is why he didn't come to court, not that he was trying to undermine the authority of the court," Mujuda said.

Zambian Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha said it is illegal in Zambia to write about an ongoing court case.

"Specifically in Zambia, there is a law that says once the case is in the courts of law you cannot discuss it. The prosecution saw it; they went ahead and made an observation that there was a legal problem where The Post newspaper had written on the case that was in court," Shikapwasha said.

But Mujuda said Zambia does not have a jury system that could have been swayed by a newspaper article.

"It would be very interesting for you to realize that in Zambia we don't follow a jury system which would be influenced by such an article. Whatever in that article was not prejudicial to the case," Mujuda said.

He said the Zambian legal system is going through an interesting period.

"I don't want to lend myself again into multiple contempt of court (charges) because whatever I say now it can just end up lending me into multiple contempt of court (charges). It's very interesting what is going on now," Mujuda said.

Information Minister Shikapwasha said Zambian courts are independent of the government.

But Mujuda said it is up to Zambians to judge what is going on in their country.

News Editor Chansa Kabwela is on trial 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 earlier this year.