Shocking news from Zambia that the Editor of the Post newspaper – one of the only independent papers that frequently has run ins with the government – has been sentenced to four months’ hard labour for contempt of court. Fred M’membe’s crime? To publish this opinion piece about the farcical nature of the attempted prosecution of one of his journalists, Chansa Kabwela, for obscenity.
Kabwela was taken to court for sending pictures of a woman giving birth in the street to senior government officials in order to highlight problems with the hospital system. It’s worth pointing out that she didn’t actually publish the pictures. The baby in the photos died.
Kabwela was, quite rightly, acquitted – and her case brought international attention to both the problems with maternal health in Zambia and the inability of her government to face up to the issue in a mature manner. Obscenity charges? Really?
This is a government which doesn’t like criticism, and unable to convict Kabwela, has instead gone after her editor. The timing of the editorial was, in hindsight, problably foolhardy and the letter of the letter of the law says it should have been printed after the trial was finished, not during precedings. M’membe’s defence was largely based on the fact he was away on a study break at the time.
Every word is true, though, and the failure of the authorities to acknowledge their shameful performance in bringing the original charges by dropping those against M’membe is an outrage.
The judge hoped the sentence should ‘reform the convict’. I sincerely hope it doesn’t.