Zambia: Press Freedom Alerts, 03/26/'96

Zambia: Press Freedom Alerts, 03/26/'96

Zambia: Press Freedom Alerts
Date distributed (ymd): 960326

Committee to Protect Journalists
Press release: March 12, 1996

For more information contact:
Kakuna Kerina, Program Coordinator for Africa
(212) 465-1004 x103; fax: (212) 465-9568;


U.S. Press Freedom Group Launches Campaign Denouncing Escalated Attacks on "The Post"

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a nonpartisan advocate for press freedom, today condemned the banning of the Internet and printed editions of Zambia's leading independent newspaper, "The Post," and protests the continued legal harassment of the daily's editorial staff, including CPJ's 1995 International Press Freedom Award winner, managing director and editor in chief Fred M'membe, the latest of which has forced M'membe and his colleagues to turn themselves in after ten days in hiding.

"The suppression of the printed and electronic editions of The Post and the continued legal harassment of editor Fred M'membe and his colleagues call into question the Zambian government's proclaimed commitment to democracy," said CPJ's Executive Director, William Orme. "The censorship of independent news reporting is especially troubling during an election year, when Zambians rely on news organizations such as "The Post" for information about opposition viewpoints and government actions and policies."

CPJ denounces the following incidents of detention without trial, censorship and the protracted legal harassment of the "The Post"'s editorial staff:

* The February 5 issue of "The Post," which revealed the Zambian government's plan to hold a referendum in March to promulgate a controversial draft constitution, was banned by presidential decree and declared a "prohibited publication" under Section 53 of the Penal Code. The decree also warned the public that any citizen caught in possession of the edition, including the on-line version, could be charged with committing a criminal offense under the Prohibited Publications Act.

* M'membe, managing editor Bright Mwape and special projects editor Masautso Phiri were arrested on Feb. 6 and charged with possessing state secrets, a violation of Section 4 of the State Security Act, and possessing a banned publication. The three were released on bail of US$350 each on Feb. 7, the same day that President Chiluba ordered the removal of the February 5 edition from "The Post"'s World Wide Web site. President Chiluba's decree marks the first act of censorship of the internet on the African continent. If convicted, M'membe, Phiri and Mwape face a maximum of 25 years in prison.

* In a separate incident, on February 23, M'membe, Mwape and columnist Lucy Banda Sichone, went into hiding to avoid imprisonment on charges of contempt of Parliament after the Zambian National Assembly, on February 21, found the three journalists guilty of violating the Powers and Privileges Act. The Act is a colonial law which prohibits non-members of parliament from criticizing proclamations issued by members of parliament. In the January 29 edition of "The Post," M'membe, Mwape and Sichone had written articles commenting on the vice president's criticism, in parliament, of a recent Supreme Court decision. The National Assembly Standing Orders Committee sentenced the three journalists to indefinite detention until they publicly apologized for breach of Parliament.

* On March 4, M'membe and Mwape surrendered to parliamentary authorities, explaining that they would not apologize to the House. M'membe pleaded with the speaker of the National Assembly to absolve Sichone, who remains in hiding with her three-month-old infant, of blame. Attorneys for "The Post" have petitioned the High Court, challenging the constitutionality of the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act.

As reported in CPJ's annual report, "Attacks on the Press in 1995": "After a promising start, President Frederick Chiluba's government reneged on its promises to reform repressive legislation. Instead, it embarked on a deliberate campaign to restrict press freedom and is rapidly becoming one of the worst violators of press freedom in southern Africa."

Since its launch in 1991, "The Post" has endured military raids, censorship, arrests and numerous legal actions sanctioned by President Chiluba's government. For their exposure of government corruption, the journalists face countless charges, including defamation of the president, which amount to more than 125 years in prison.

CPJ has initiated a campaign to bring world attention to this pattern of harassment of the Zambian independent press and to urge President Chiluba to ensure an environment in which Zambian journalists can work freely. We encourage all those interested in participating to sign the attached letter to President Chiluba, then mail or fax it to CPJ. CPJ will forward the protest letters to the State House in Lusaka.

CPJ applauds the "World Press Review"'s recent choice of Fred M'membe as co-winner of the magazine's 1995 International Editor of the Year Award. The award is given annually to editors working outside the United States, honoring "enterprise, courage, and leadership in advancing the freedom and responsibility of the press, enhancing human rights, and fostering excellence in journalism." M'membe shares the award with Dapo Olorunyomi, editor in chief of "TheNEWS," a Lagos-based news magazine.

(For up-to-date information on the state of the media worldwide, and CPJ's activities and publications, visit CPJ's World Wide Web site at


His Excellency President Frederick Chiluba
President of the Republic of Zambia
State House
Independence Avenue
P. O. Box 30208
Lusaka, ZAMBIA

Your Excellency,
As an advocate of press freedom, I write to express my concern over the persecution of the staff of your country's leading independent daily newspaper, "The Post." Managing director and editor in chief Fred M'membe and his colleagues, managing editor Bright Mwape, special projects editor Masautso Phiri and columnist Lucy Sichone, have endured relentless harassment and an unprecedented number of legal charges since the newspaper was launched in 1991. For exercising their rights as journalists to freely express ideas and opinions, M'membe, a winner of three international press freedom awards, and his colleagues face countless charges which amount to more than 125 years in jail.

More recently, on March 4, M'membe and Mwape surrendered to parliamentary authorities after spending 10 days in hiding to avoid imprisonment on charges of contempt of parliament. They were sentenced by the National Assembly Standing Orders Committee which convicted the journalists, without trial in a court of law, under the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act. They are now serving an indefinite prison sentence. Sichone, who was also convicted with M'membe and Mwape, remains in hiding with her three-month-old infant.

Furthermore, M'membe, Mwape and Phiri are facing charges of violating Section 4 of the State Security Act, the conviction of which has a jail sentence of 25 years, in connection with the banned printed and on-line editions of "The Post," which Your Excellency decreed a "prohibited publication." This decree marks the first act of censorship of the internet on the African continent.

I strongly urge Your Excellency to annul the convictions of the three journalists, and to immediately and unconditionally release M'membe and Mwape. I also urge you to revoke the ban on the February 5 edition of "The Post," and to revoke the colonial National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act.

Finally, I call on Your Excellency, in this election year, to intervene on the side of press freedom, and to uphold your public proclamations of support for a free and independent press by ensuring an environment in which journalists may work and safely.


Name Date

[end CPJ Action Alert]

Amnesty International has adopted Fred M'membe and Bright Mwape as prisoners of conscience and issued an urgent action appeal on March 19 (AFR 63/02/96). That appeal suggests that copies of letters sent to Zambian authorities be also sent to Sakwiba Sikota, President, Law Association of Zambia, P.O. Box 35271, Lusaka, Zambia (Faxes: +260-1 223383/228947; e-mail It also gives a fax number and e-mail address for President Federick Chiluba (fax: +260-1-221939; e- mail: Amnesty International issued the following news release on March 26.


The case of two newspaper journalists who were imprisoned for writing articles critical of the Zambian Government could be raised tomorrow, when the Zambian Government will defend its human rights record before a meeting of the Human Rights Committee at the UN in New York.

"Under both Zambian law and international law, the government has not provided these journalists with a fair trial and therefore has no right to deprive them of their liberty," Amnesty International said in a 13-page report released today.

Fred M'membe and Bright Mwape, editor-in-chief and managing editor of The Post newspaper in Zambia, had written articles critical of Vice President Godfrey Miyanda, who made a speech in parliament attacking a January decision by Zambia's Supreme Court that ruled unconstitutional regulations that infringed on the right to assembly. The two men are being held in indefinite detention until they formally apologize to the Zambian National Assembly and plead for forgiveness.

Amnesty International considers Fred M'membe and Bright Mwape to be prisoners of conscience and calls on the Zambian Government to set them free at once unconditionally.

There appears to be a long-standing policy by the Zambian Government to misuse criminal charges against journalists with the aim of harassing and intimidating the independent press into docility. During the past few years, the government has been angered in particular by criticism and negative articles published in The Post newspaper.

Government attacks against the media have intensified. The government's threats of criminal charges, detentions for questioning and arrests in 1994 and 1995 against Fred M'membe and other staff members of The Post have escalated in 1996, culminating in the banning of the 5 February edition of the newspaper and hunts conducted by Zambian police for Fred M'membe and Bright Mwape.

The membership of the Standing Orders Committee of the National Assembly of Zambia -- which sentenced the journalists to indefinite detention on 22 February -- is dominated by the ruling party, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, which holds all but one of the seats on the Committee.

The charges of "contempt of parliament" were reportedly raised in the Committee by the aggrieved party in the case, Vice President Godfrey Miyanda, who is also the Committee's deputy chair. All these factors raise concerns about whether such a body could render an independent, objective and fair ruling in the matter.

Note: This news release is posted by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, 1 Easton Street, London WC1X 8DJ (Tel +44-71-413-5500, Fax +44-71-956-1157, E-mail in the conference on the APC networks. You may re-post this message onto other sources but if you do then please tell us at so that we can keep track of what is happening to these items. For more information on Amnesty International, including national section offices you can contact for more information, send email to, an automatic reply service.

[end Amnesty International news release]


Additional sources of information:

(1) The Media Institute of Southern Africa has also issued periodic e-mail action alerts and updates on the situation of the Post editors and newspaper. For more information, contact MISA Director Methaetsile Leepile or Information Co-ordinator David Lush at the following:

MISA Secretariat,
9 Mozart Street,
Private Bag 13386,
Windhoek, Namibia.
Tel. +264 61 232975
Fax. +264 61 248016
e-mail: or

(2) The Post is itself available at the following Web address:, although the connection may be slow at times. Selected articles from The Post are also available at

Material from Web or Gopher sites can also be retrieved via e-mail by using the WebMail server (for instructions send a message "help" to or the Agora server (for instructions send a message "help" to

Message-Id: <> From: "APIC" <> Date: Tue, 26 Mar 1996 12:58:16 -0500 Subject: Zambia: Press Freedom Alerts

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

Previous Menu Home Page What's New Search Country Specific