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Zambian Editor to Face Trial Over Article

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Mail & Guardian (South Africa) reported today:

Post newspaper editor [and chief] Fred M’membe will stand trial for violating a gag order on the pornography case, in which the paper’s news editor Chansa Kabwela was cleared on Tuesday, Magistrate David Simusamba ruled.

What had happened was Post editor Chansa Kabwela had been charged with violating Section 177 of the Penal Code of Zambia which is meant to punish those that “try to corrupt the morals” of Zambian society.

The editor was covering a doctors strike in Zambia and was going to publish a photo, along with an article, that showed a woman giving birth on a sidewalk due to the fact that no doctors could come to her aid. Kabwela was found innocent of the charges recently and the Los Angeles Times reported that:

Chansa Kabwela, the news editor of the independent newspaper the Post, decided the photos were too shocking to publish but sent them to senior government officials and two women’s groups to draw attention to the hospital crisis. She was arrested and charged with circulating pornography after President Rupiah Banda publicly urged police to take action.

Yet despite never actually publishing the photos Kabwela had action taken against her. The Times of Zambia (via AllAfrica) quotes Kabwela after her courtroom victory:

The smiling Kabwela told journalists outside the courtroom that she could not rule out the possibility of political influence on the matter because there was nothing obscenity about the pictures.

Kabwela said her letter to Vice-President, George Kunda was to remind the people in authority how serious the strike action by the health workers had been.
“I could not imagine how someone could look at those pictures as pornographic because there was nothing pornographic about those pictures. I am really very happy because I knew I did not do anything wrong,” she said.

Not satisfied with harassing Post journalists the government decided to take action against editor-and-chief M’membe. In an editorial the Post stated:

Rupiah’s pettiness and hatred blinded him from seeing the suffering, the pain, the despair or helplessness that those pictures carried. What Rupiah saw was an opportunity to crucify The Post by criminalising its very noble and otherwise sensitive communication with the government. We did not publish our communication with the government. It was done quietly because the editorial staff decided that that was the best way to deliver the message without being seen to be politicising the issue.

Chansa’s case exemplifies the recklessness of a president who is drunk with power, who thinks because he is president, he can do anything and cage anyone, he has dominion over everything in this country.

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