Monday, July 20, 2009

The arrest of the Post's editor should be condemned

From the VOA
Zambia's Government Criticized for Harassing Journalists
20 July 2009

The International Press Institute has expressed concern over the arrest and upcoming trial of Zambia Post newspaper Editor Chansa Kabwela.

The group reportedly said the Zambian government is using trumped-up criminal charges as a tool for intimidating and harassing journalists critical of the government.

Kabwela, whose trial is to begin August fifth, is charged with distributing obscene materials in order to corrupt what the government called the morals of society.

She reportedly sent pictures to government officials of a woman whose baby died while giving birth outside of a hospital during Zambia’s long nurses’ strike this year.

Read the rest of the article

Some background: The Post was highly critical of president Rupiah Banda during the election campaign last year. They published daily editorials against him accusing him of corruption among other things. Many Zambians, regardless of political affiliation, saw the tone as unnecessarily harsh and too focused on his personality.

That said, The Post was the main opposition voice in a media landscape skewed towards the ruling party and was, amidst the mudslinging, responsible for some valid reporting, including the story about gifts of food and sugar given to traditional leaders to secure rural votes. During the campaign there was open declarations from the ruling party apparatchiks and from the candidate himself talking about how The Post would be dealt with once Banda took power.

Many saw the government allowing the collapse of the country's main carrier Zambian Airways earlier this year, a business majority-owned by The Post, as a move against the paper. The details there were rumours at best. This recent arrest, however, is clear political manipulation and should be widely condemned. These are such outrageous charges--counstruing photos of a woman giving birth outside a hospital due to a labour dispute, the height of good journalism, as pornography--and I'm disheartened to see, at least from this vantage point, that Kabwela isn't getting more public support.

Here's a similar statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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