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"The Post" editorial staff face six months in prison on contempt charge after op-ed in paper by Ivy League professor

Alleged assault victims from two newspapers file complaint against ruling party member

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 01 September. The editor-in-chief of Zambia's The Post newspaper, IPI member Fred M'membe, and Ivy League law school professor Muna Ndulo, were on Monday cited for contempt over an article Ndulo wrote branding as a "comedy of errors" an obscenity case brought against The Post newspaper editor Chansa Kabwela after she sent photos of a woman giving birth in the street to Zambia's vice president, health minister and other officials to highlight an ongoing health sector strike. Ndulo's article appeared in The Post. Kabwela faces up to five years in prison if found guilty. The photos were never published by her newspaper.

When IPI marked its 50th anniversary, in 2000, M'membe received one of 50 world Press Freedom Hero awards for continuing to expose corruption and abuses of power under the regime of former Zambian President Frederick Chiluba, despite the fact that he and journalists at the newspaper faced threats, harassment, beatings, arrests and countless lawsuits.

Ndulo's article, originally printed on 27 August and entitled "The Chansa Kabwela case: a comedy of errors," is critical of the way Zambian President Rupiah Banda, the police and the Director of Public Prosecution have handled the case.

Magistrate Charles Kafunda on Monday summoned the entire editorial staff of The Post to appear before him, in order to establish which staff members were related to the publication of the article.

The editorial staff, which comprises some 50 journalists, will appear in court on Wednesday morning.

Journalists at The Post are concerned that content at their paper may suffer as a result of the summons.

Sam Mujuda, deputy managing editor of The Post and the paper's legal counsel, told IPI: "We are surprised at the approach that has been taken, because it will affect our operations tomorrow."

Staff members found guilty of contempt could face up to six months in prison.

"This new contempt citation must not be allowed to distract from the injustice of the original charge levied against Chansa Kabwela," said IPI Director David Dadge. "It is simply the latest in a series of oppressive measures directed against the independent media in Zambia."

The Post has long been in conflict with President Banda's ruling party, the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD).

In a separate development, an MMD member may now have to defend himself against two counts of "assault occasioning actual bodily harm" under Section 248 of Zambia's Penal Code, Chapter 87. The MMD member, along with fellow supporters, allegedly assaulted journalists Chibaula David Silwamba of The Post and Anthony Mulowa of the Times of Zambia on 29 July as they waited at Lusaka International Airport for President Banda to land.

The MMD supporters allegedly asked Silwamba and Mulowa for press identification, despite having no authority to do so. When the journalists refused, they were punched and forced to leave. The incident was covered at the time by local news sources, who noted that President Banda condemned the attacks shortly after his flight landed.

The case has been highlighted by numerous organizations and institutions, including the Zambia Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Press Freedom Committee of The Post (PFC), the Media Institute in Southern Africa (MISA-Zambia), the Zambia Media Women Association (ZAMWA), Panos Southern Africa, the United Nations Information Centre and the Zambia Union of Broadcasters and Information Disseminators (ZUBID).

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