In Zambia, Post Editor Fred M’membe sent to prison

New York, June 4, 2010—Veteran Zambian Editor Fred M’membe was sent to prison today following his sentencing for contempt of court sparked by an op-ed on the state’s prosecution of a journalist, according to local journalists and news reports.

Having convicted M’membe earlier this week, Magistrate David Simusamba sentenced the the editor-in-chief of Zambia’s largest newspaper, The Post, to four months in prison with hard labor, according to news reports. M’membe, a 1995 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, was immediately escorted to Chimbokaila Prison in the capital, Lusaka, where he will spend the weekend pending an application for bail, The Post’s assistant editor, Sheikh Chifuwe, told CPJ. Defense lawyers have already filed an appeal.

We condemn this particularly harsh prison sentence of one of Zambia’s most prominent editors, which sets back press freedom and the democratic gains in Zambia,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “Fred M’membe should be released on bail immediately and his conviction overturned on appeal.

The magistrate justified the prison sentence by asserting that the paper’s publication of a November 2009 op-ed about the trial of Post News Editor Chansa Kabwela on alleged obscenity charges was likely to seriously prejudice that case, according to news reports. Kabwela’s charges related to her mailing to officials unpublished photos of a woman delivering a baby without medical assistance during a hospital strike. She was acquitted in November 2009.