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Zambia Priest Denies Insulting President

  • Peter Clottey

Roman Catholic priest Frank Bwalya (in red) and supporters hold red cards to display their displeasure with the government as they attend a rally in front of the National Assembly, in Lusaka, Zambia, March 22, 2011.
Zambia’s government has charged a Roman Catholic priest with insulting President Michael Sata and inciting people to violence against his administration.

Zambian laws restrict citizens from using abusive language or defaming the sitting president.

During a recent radio interview, Father Frank Bwalya called President Sata a “crooked sweet potato” which in the local Bemba language can be translated as meaning the country’s leader refuses to listen to advice.

Speaking to VOA Bwalya defended his comments saying they were taken out of context and exaggerated.

“On that radio program, I strongly criticized the bad leadership of the president. I called him a crooked sweet potato that cannot be straightened. It is a commonly used phrase which is not insulting. It is to explain the attitude of a person who doesn’t want to be advised who doesn’t want to be counseled,” said Bwalya.

Bwalya has since been granted bail after he pleaded not guilty to the charges.

But supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party have rejected his explanation. They accuse him of intentionally undermining the constitution by using abusive language against the president aimed at creating tension and discontent against the government.

Bwalya says he understands how his comments could be taken out of context but he condemned the anti-defamatory statutes, calling them a legacy of colonialism.

“Of course people who are not familiar with the saying that I used will think that I am insulting [the president],” said Bwalya. “These insulting laws are draconian laws that we inherited from our colonial masters. They have lost meaning. But our president is using these laws to silence us [and] to threaten us.”

In his VOA interview Bwalya denies inciting people to violence and says he is just exercising his constitutional right as a citizen and an opposition leader to providing checks and balances – all part of the democratic process he says.

“This charge is just tramped up,” said Bwalya. “I protested that I was being harassed [and] I was being persecuted…tell me which country in the world where the opposition does not provide checks and balances until they go for elections? I have never seen such a country. The opposition is there to provide checks and balances and that is what we are doing.”

Bwalya is scheduled to go back to court January 21st to face the charges against him.