New York, N.Y., March 10, 1999 — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today issued a strongly worded condemnation of the Zambian government’s crackdown on The Post, now in the second day of a full-scale assault stemming from the Lusaka-based independent daily’s publication on Tuesday of an article questioning the country’s military preparedness.
Zambian police today surrounded the editorial offices and The Post’s printing facility, trapping the newspaper’s employees inside. Today’s combat-style action by the police follows late-night raids yesterday on the homes of The Post‘s editorial staff, during which six journalists — Joe Kaunda, Lubasi Mwangala Katundu, Kelvin Shimo, Brighton Phiri, Amos Malupenga, and Goodson Machona — were taken into custody and are being held at various detention facilities in Lusaka.
Reporter Sheik Chifuwe and the entire production staff, including five graphic designers and three proofreaders, are being held against their will inside the editorial offices without water, food, or electricity. Fred M’membe, The Post‘s editor in chief, and reporters Dickson Jere, Sam Mujuda, and Arthur Simchoba are surrounded at the printing facility without water, food, or electricity, preventing them from publishing the March 11 edition of the newspaper.
The arrests followed the publication of the lead story in the March 9 edition of The Post, headlined “Angola Worries Zambia Army, ZAF,” reporting that unidentified senior Zambia Army and Zambia Air Force (ZAF) officers believe that their military could not withstand an attack by Angola.
In a letter to President Chiluba, CPJ’s Executive Director Ann K. Cooper decried the government’s actions and urged him to ensure the safe release of all the journalists involved. CPJ has documented the government’s long-standing campaign against The Post, including dozens of prosecutions of M’membe and his staff for criminal defamation and other alleged violations of Zambian law. In 1995, CPJ awarded M’membe its International Press Freedom Award for upholding the principles of independent journalism in the face of constant government pressure.
“President Frederick Chiluba’s government has spent years trying to break the will of The Post and its editor, Fred M’membe, yet the newspaper has held true to its slogan, ‘The paper that digs deeper’,” said Kakuna Kerina, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “We deplore this latest attempt by the authorities to silence this vital voice this Zambian society, and are deeply alarmed by their decision to resort to brute force in response to what, in a truly democratic society, would be considered the proper role of the press.”
The Post has provided ongoing coverage of the recent accusations by the Angolan government that Zambian government officials have supplied arms to rebel forces of the Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The Angolan government has also charged that there are links between high-ranking Zambian officials, including Vice President Chris Ontembo, Energy Minister Benny Mwila, and President Chiluba’s son, Tito Chiluba, and UNITA. The Post reported both the Angolan government’s accusations, and the Zambian armed forces consistent denials about arms trading with UNITA.