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Reporters attacked at airport by president's supporters

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders deplores the 29 July 2009 physical attacks on journalists by supporters of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) at Lusaka International Airport. The facts of the incident were not disputed by President Rupiah Banda, who condemned the assault.

"The president's comments are reassuring, but apologies are not enough and concrete measures are now needed," Reporters Without Borders said. "Sanctions must be adopted against the MMD supporters, who often attack journalists. We urge President Banda to take the opportunity offered by this unfortunate incident to publicly express his commitment to press freedom and to ensure that it is better respected from now on."

Young MMD supporters attacked reporter Chibaula Silwamba at the airport at around 11:30 a.m. (local time) after recognising him as an employee of "The Post," an independent daily. He had gone there to cover President Banda's arrival from a visit to neighbouring Uganda and was displaying his press card. They hit him several times in the stomach and forced him to leave.

Three other employees of "The Post" - reporter Maluba Jere, photographer Collins Phiri and sports reporter Prudence Phiri - who had gone to the airport to cover the departure of the Zambian football team, Zesco United, to Sudan, were also attacked and manhandled by the same group of MMD supporters and forced to leave the airport.

Reporter Anthony Mulowa and photographer Richard Mulonga of the state-owned "Times of Zambia" daily were also hit when they refused to show their press cards to the MMD supporters.

President Banda condemned the violence shortly after his arrival. Silwamba nonetheless told Reporters Without Borders: "The President's apologies are not enough. We expect him to do more, and to go after those responsible for these abuses."

The violence came just two weeks after "The Post" editor Chansa Kabwela was arrested on a completely unjustified charge of "distributing obscene materials."

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