August 14, 2001
President Frederick Chiluba
State House Independence Avenue
Via Facsimile: 011-260-1-221939
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by a recent string of press freedom abuses in Zambia, and by your government’s increased monitoring of state-funded media. Given the hostile climate that local journalists now face, we have little confidence that they will be able to work effectively during the run-up to general elections scheduled for later this year.
The latest attacks on Zambian journalists appear to be reprisals for critical press coverage of Your Excellency and other top-ranking officials of the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD).
On July 25, for example, Bivan Saluseki, a reporter for the independent Lusaka daily The Post, was arrested for a July 16 story alleging that Your Excellency and several members of your cabinet were involved in graft schemes. Police briefly detained Saluseki before charging him with criminal defamation of the head of state under Article 69 of Zambia’s Penal Code, which prescribes up to three years in jail for “any person who, with intent to bring the president into hatred, ridicule or contempt, publishes any defamatory or insulting matter.”
A few weeks later, on August 2, police issued a so-called warn and caution statement to Amos Malupenga, the deputy news editor of The Post, for an article in that day’s edition in which he accused Your Excellency of having “stolen and shattered to pieces Zambia’s dream.” The article quoted the criticisms of former deputy finance minister Newton Ng’uni, who was also “warned and cautioned.”
On August 9, Zambia’s director of public prosecutions, Mukelebai Mukelebai, ordered police to halt criminal proceedings against Malupenga and Ng’uni. Mukelebai found that Malupenga’s article did not defame the president but merely expressed a “personal political opinion,” Zambian sources say. Malupenga had already been “warned and cautioned” two months earlier over an article quoting a former MMD official who criticized some of your policies.
Journalists have also been targeted for criticizing other officials. On July 9, for example, police in the Northern Province town of Mpika arrested Ernest Mwape, a correspondent for the private station Radio Phoenix who also contributes to The Post. The arrest followed a June 6 article by Mwape alleging that Mulenga Supuni, the area’s district administrator, had reprimanded local police for failing to give him adequate security protection during a student riot.
Mpika police official Boaz Njolomba later told the Zambia Independent Media Association (ZIMA) that Mwape’s claims were false and malicious, and that he was being charged with criminal libel for defaming the police, an organ of the state.
The journalist was ordered to apologize or issue a retraction of the story, but he refused to do either. On July 12, police dropped the charges against Mwape.
Meanwhile, your government has tightened control of state-funded media. The move was heralded by the May 9 appointment of Vernon Mwaanga as minister of information and broadcasting. Three weeks after his appointment, Mwaanga dissolved the boards of the state-funded Zambia Daily Mail, the Times of Zambia, the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation, and the Zambia Printing Company.
ZIMA has expressed strong reservations about the minister’s action and warned authorities against making “propaganda organs” of the public media. Zambian journalists contacted by CPJ also reported that pro-government bias in public media has only intensified as elections approach.
On July 24, two editors of the Zambia Daily Mail were suspended for six months after an article in the paper described Minister of Home Affairs Peter Machungwa, who was being investigated for corruption and abuse of office, as “disgraced.”
The new information minister has also criticized the private media. In late June, Zambian newspapers quoted Mwaanga as saying he would “not tolerate any nonsense from the private media from now onwards.”
CPJ strongly believes that journalists should not face criminal prosecution for what they publish. By using repressive laws to intimidate critical media, Your Excellency’s government demonstrates little regard for press freedom, a right guaranteed under Article 20 of Zambia’s Constitution.
CPJ urges you to launch an immediate investigation into possible abuses of Zambian criminal law to suppress independent journalism in Zambia, and to ensure that state-funded media are allowed to reflect diverse political perspectives. We also urge you to make a public commitment to protecting the safety of all journalists in Zambia during this critical period.
Ann K. Cooper