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Independent newspaper editor-in-chief on trial for contempt charges

(MISA/IFEX) - On 14 October, 2009, Fred M'membe, editor in chief of "The Post" newspaper, appeared before Magistrate Simusamba to answer to a charge of Contempt of Court contrary to section 116 (1) (d) (i) of the Penal Code Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia.

M'membe was criminally charged for the second time on 14 October after running an op-ed critical of controversial pornography charges against a journalist, according to local journalists and news reports. Particulars of the offence are that M'membe and others published in "The Post", number 4697, dated 27 August, an article regarding the case of "The people versus Chansa Kabwela", titled "The Chansa Kabwela Case: a Comedy of errors". Contempt of court charges may be used against authors of opinion pieces that comment on ongoing trials, according to Zambian law.

M'membe has pleaded not guilty to the charge. The trial has been postponed to 29 and 30 October.

However, Samson Mujuda, his deputy editor-in-chief who travelled outside the country, was also charged with the same offence, but has been dropped from the proceedings until he returns to Zambia.

If convicted, under the Zambian penal code, M'membe and the paper could be fined up to 2 million kwacha (approx. US$430) each, confirmed defense lawyer Remmy Mainza. In the event of non-payment of the fines, M'Membe could be imprisoned for up to five years and the newspaper's assets could be seized, he said.


BACKGROUND:

Kabwela, news editor for "The Post", was arrested in July for circulating two photographs of a woman giving birth without medical help outside the University Teaching Hospital. On 10 June, Kabwela had sent the photos with a letter to the vice president, the minister of health, the cabinet secretary, the archbishop of Lusaka, and two civil society groups, urging that a medical workers' strike be settled. Kabwela was charged with circulating obscene materials.

Magistrate Charles Kafunda, who oversees Kabwela's trial, previously brought contempt charges against M'membe and other "Post" staffers in August. This was after the newspaper published an article authored by Zambian United States-based University of Cornell's Professor of Law Muna Ndulo. The article described the prosecution of Kabwela as a "comedy of errors".

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Case history


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