(MISA/IFEX) - On 2 July 2009, the Zambia Police Service issued a warning statement to Chansa Kabwela, news editor for "The Post", for being in possession of pictures of a mother giving birth.
Kabwela had sent the pictuers to Vice President George Kunda, top government officials and civil society organisations, with the intention of showing the severity of the strike by nurses and health workers, hoping the government will take appropriate action.
According to the news monitored by MISA-Zambia on 2 July, on Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) and Muvi Television, Ms Kabwela was interrogated for over two hours by the police. Section 177 (1a) of the law makes it an offence to make, produce or have possession of any obscene writings, drawings, prints, paintings, printed matter, pictures, posters, emblems, photographs, cinematography films or any other object "tending to corrupt morals".
The offence comes with a five-year jail term or a fine. However, the penal code does not define what constitutes obscenity. The allegations are that Kabwela has in her possession pictures that were circulating on the Internet of a mother in childbirth. However, "The Post" contends that the said pictures could not be published in their newspaper and hence they sent them to relevant people for their attention. It has not been established who started emailing the pictures on the Internet.
According to the 3 July issue of "The Post", Kabwela said she awaits her day in court over the pictures she sent to the Vice President and a letter which she copied to the Health Minister, Kapembwa Simbao; the Secretary to the Cabinet, Joshua Kanganja; Women for Change (WfC), the Non-governmental Coordinating Council (NGOCC) and the Catholic Archbishop of Lusaka.
She said it was not true that her newspaper was in the business of publishing pornography as has been alleged and stated that "The Post" was committed to disseminating information in a fair and objective manner, bearing in mind that the media has the responsibility to contribute to economic and social development.
The warning statement was recorded on 2 July at the Lusaka Division Headquarters before Mrs. Sharon Zulu. Kabwela said that according to journalistic ethics, she was not obliged to discuss the issues of her sources, the process of newsgathering and "The Post"'s operations with the police.
She said that what was going on was a mere formality because the president already ordered the arrest of the person who took the pictures. She said it was sad that a trend had emerged where the police were acting on orders from the president.
On 24 June Zambian President Rupiah Banda expressed concern and called on authorities react to pictures that were in circulation showing a woman giving birth without support from health workers, because they are on strike. Amos Malupenga, "The Post" managing editor, has denied allegations made by the Special Assistant to the President for Press and Public Relations, Dickson Jere, during the same conference, that the pictures were being circulated by "The Post" through email. He explained that "The Post" had not sent the pictures to anyone but the named government officials and civil society organizations.