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Court dismisses air force commander's request to caution editor over articles on corruption case

(MISA/IFEX) - An independent Zambian newspaper, "The Post", was recently released from accusations of interference in a court case involving former Zambia Army defence chiefs who are being tried on allegations of corruption.

"The Post" gained a victory when the Magistrates Court dismissed an appeal by former Zambia Air Force (ZAF) commander, Lieutenant General Sande Kayumba, requesting that the magistrate caution editor Fred M'membe over stories about the case published in the newspaper.

On 3 April 2008, the Lusaka High Court Deputy Registrar, Edward Musona, said the appeal was baseless and the newspaper's actions did not amount to contempt of court because the editorial was based on previous statements by two former presidents - Dr Kenneth Kaunda and Dr Frederick Chiluba - and not on what had been said in the case that was before him.

M'membe was summoned as a witness. When he was in court, the ZAF commander's lawyer requested that the magistrate caution M'membe to stop commenting on cases before the court.

The lawyer said that the editorial by M'membe subjected his client to two separate trials: one by "The Post", which had allegedly tried and convicted him, and another before Magistrate Musona, which was still ongoing.

"It is vexatious", said Musona, who characterised the attempt as "shadow boxing".

On 17 March, "The Post" published an article entitled "Chiluba and his Corrupt Generals", which mentioned Kayumba.

"The Post" has come under fire on numerous occasions for its verbatim representations of high-profile cases that make the public aware of the exact nature of events and statements as told by witnesses and accused persons to the court. Though the publication of verbatim reports is legal, affected members of the public, especially concerned government officials, have been uncomfortable about the delivery of this information to the general public. As a result, the newspaper has a history of legal difficulties, including arbitrary arrests and lawsuits, over cases involving high profile government officials.

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