June 13, 2000
His Excellency President Frederick Chiluba
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the current climate for press freedom in Zambia. We condemn recent hostile statements made by government officials against the local media, and we are particularly disturbed by the ongoing espionage trial of eleven journalists from the independent daily newspaper The Post.
On May 12, Minister of Information Newstead Zimba warned that so-called “political” radio stations would face unspecified reprisals from the government. Zimba’s remarks followed comments attributed to him in the state-owned Times of Zambia a day earlier, saying that some radio stations had become political, departing from the terms of their operating licenses.
Between April 1 and April 3, Dickson Jere, a correspondent for the privately-owned weekly The Monitor, received anonymous threatening phone calls in connection with an article he published in the March 24-30 edition of the newspaper, reporting that Xavier Chungu, head of the Zambian Secret Service, had been named in a United Nations report investigating violations of U.N. sanctions against the rebel Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The callers warned Jere to “lay off the story” or face “severe repercussions.”
In such a climate of widespread harassment of journalists by government officials, CPJ has little confidence that the journalists from The Post, arrested last year over coverage of state security-related issues, will receive a fair trial when court hearings resume on June 19.
The Post case dates back to March 9, 1999, when Defense Minister Chitalu Sampa launched a police campaign against the newspaper and its editorial staff in retaliation for a story titled “Angola Worries Zambia Army, ZAF [Air Force]” that had appeared in that day’s edition of the paper. Quoting unidentified military officers, the article alleged that Zambia could not withstand a military attack by Angola.
While Your Excellency’s government accused the Post journalists of violating state security in their reporting, sources in Lusaka have told CPJ that the information about Zambian military preparedness that the paper published was freely available in Jane’s Military Report on the Internet.
On March 9-10, 1999, police arrested reporters Lubasi Mwangala Katundu, Kelvin Shimo, Joe Kaunda, Amos Malupenga, Brighton Phiri and Goodson Machona. On March 10, police also besieged the editorial offices and the printing press of The Post, cutting off power and water supplies and trapping a number of staff inside. The siege was called off on March 12, shortly after the six arrested journalists were released on a writ of habeus corpus.
On March 17, police visited The Post to issue summonses and formally charge the six journalists with espionage under Section 3 of the 1969 State Security Act. In court the following day, each of the six was granted bail of K 100,000 (US$43). By the end of March, police had arrested seven more Post journalists, including editor-in-chief Fred M’membe and journalists Douglas Hapande, MacPherson Muyumba, Dickson Jere, Mukalya Nampito, Liseli Kayumba, and Reuben Phiri.
On April 16, 1999, all but two of the arrested journalists were committed to the Lusaka High Court for trial. (The charges against Malupenga and Nampito were dropped without explanation). The trial was adjourned on several occasions without explanation, once on April 6 and again on November 1, 1999. It finally started on December 22, only to be adjourned again to February 21, 2000. It is now scheduled to resume on June 19.
CPJ believes that the case against the Post journalists violates their rights under the Zambian Constitution and international law. CPJ therefore urges Your Excellency to ensure that the charges against these journalists are immediately and unconditionally dropped. We also respectfully remind you that Article 20/2 of the Constitution states that “no law shall make any provision that derogates from freedom of the press.” We therefore suggest that you order a constitutional review of the State Security Act, under which these journalists have been prosecuted.
Freedom of expression and the press are essential to the health of any democracy. We ask Your Excellency to take steps to guarantee that these rights are respected in Zambia, so that all journalists in your country may practice their profession without fear of reprisals.
We await your comments.
Ann K. Cooper