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Photojournalist Abel Mabwe and reporter Mutuna Chanda assaulted, interrogated by police; minister defends media's right to cover constitutional reform process

(MISA/IFEX) - On 6 February 2009, 11 plainclothes police officers beat up and pepper sprayed "The Post" photojournalist Abel Mambwe and detained him together with reporter Mutuna Chanda after he took a photograph of them assaulting a "pirate" taxi driver. Mambwe was pepper sprayed in the left eye, manhandled and handcuffed before being bundled into a minibus the plainclothes officers were using. The police accused Mambwe of disobeying police instructions by refusing to hand over his camera. The police forcibly took the camera, in the process beating Chanda who tried to rescue Mambwe. The duo was later taken to the Kitwe District Traffic Police Station where they were interrogated.

The two reporters were saved from further harassment through the intervention of Kitwe Traffic Officer-in-Charge Richard Chanda, who apologised for what he called the "unwarranted behavior" of his officers and pledged to take appropriate action. The officers who beat up the journalists apologised in the presence of their boss. "The Post" newspaper commended Senior Police Officers for swiftly dealing with this matter. "The Post" has requested that the 11 officers be arrested for beating up the journalists.

In a separate development, reacting to threats by the National Constitutional Conference (NCC) to ban the media from covering its proceedings, Zambia's Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services, Lieutenant General Ronnie Shikapwasha, says the media is indispensable to the constitutional review process and calls to ban coverage of this process will not be implemented. Speaking in an interview on Muvi television on 5 February, General Shikapwasha said the media plays an important role in the development of the country hence cannot be banned from covering events such as the NCC process.

On 2 February, the NCC Executive Committee considered banning the media from covering the NCC as a result of allegations of biased reporting. The NNC was created to review the Zambian constitution.

Updates alert on the proposal to ban media from covering NNC proceedings: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/100545

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