Reporters Without Borders

Libel charges dropped against four journalists

Published on Wednesday 31 July 2002. .
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31.07.2002 - Libel charges dropped against four journalists

Charges were finally dropped on 30 July against four journalists accused of defaming President Levy Mwanawasa after they apologised to the President for an article suggesting he had Parkinson’s disease. When withdrawing the charges, the judge advised the journalists to henceforth avoid publishing false information. One of the journalists, Emmanuel Chilewka, stated at the hearing that he had been forced to report the President’s rumoured illness by friends of former President Frederick Chiluba, currently involved in a legal battle with President Mwanawasa.


28.06.2002 - Four journalists of The People freed on bail

Four journalists of the weekly newspaper The People accused of libelling President Levy Mwanawasa were released on 27 June on bail of a total six million kwachas (1 388,5 euros). Their trial is set for 9 July, when they risk being jailed for two years.


26.06.2002 - Judge refuses to release four journalists held for three weeks

A judge in Lusaka has refused to release on bail four journalists of the weekly newspaper The People, who have been in prison since 5 June accused of defaming President Levy Mwanawasa.

"Zambian law says they should have been freed on bail, so we fear the authorities are determined to crack down on the press," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to the president. "We remind you that these journalists were simply exercising their right to inform the public, a right guaranteed by various international treaties ratified by Zambia."

The four journalists – editor Emmanuel Chilekwa, his deputy Shaderick Banda, reporter Kinsley Lwendo and trainee journalist Jean Chirwa – were arrested on 5 June after writing that the president had Parkinson’s disease. The next day, a Lusaka court refused to grant bail and Judge Frank Tembo confirmed this on 25 June, saying they would have to stay in prison at least until the next hearing on 9 July.

They face three years in prison for "defaming the president," who has ordered the arrest of anyone who says he is ill.

Chilekwa was first arrested on 31 May and interrogated about the article for several hours. "They handcuffed me, beat me up and demanded to know who gave me the information about the president and then released me," he said. "I refused to tell them because it is against my ethics."


07.06.2002 - Four journalists face three years imprisonment

Reporters Without Borders called today on Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa to drop his legal action against four journalists from the privately-owned weekly The People who were arrested on 5 June after writing that he had Parkinson’s disease.

The Magistrate Court refused on 6 June to grant bail to the four – editor Emmanuel Chilekwa, his deputy Shaderick Banda, reporter Kinsley Lwendo and trainee journalist Jean Chirwa – until the next ruling on 25 June. They face three years in prison for "defaming the president," who has ordered the arrest of anyone who says he is ill.

"We remind you that a jail sentence for defamation is considered by international human rights bodies as excessive," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Mwanawasa. He also pointed out that the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Abid Hussain, had ruled that punishing the peaceful expression of an opinion was a serious violation of human rights. Ménard repeated an earlier call for defaming the president to be no longer treated as a criminal offence.

Chilekwa was first arrested on 31 May and interrogated about the article for several hours. "They handcuffed me, beat me up and demanded to know who gave me the information about the president and then released me," he said. "I refused to tell them because it is against my ethics."

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