The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the arrest of veteran editor Fred M’membe and his reporter Mukosha Funga.
“Zambian taxpayers need more, not fewer, journalists probing how their money is spent,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We call on authorities to drop the charges and release Fred M’membe and Mukosha Funga immediately.”
M’membe, editor of the Post newspaper, and reporter Funga were arrested for publishing a letter, which the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) wrote to President Edgar Lungu informing him of their investigations of one his aides Kaizer Zulu for corruption.
The police say the letter was a classified document and publishing it is a criminal offence.
The journalists’ lawyers have applied for bail, which will be ruled upon on today. If bail is denied again today, it means the two journalists will spend the weekend in Jail as Zambian courts rarely hear cases on weekends. Government often uses this as tool to punish government critics by making sure the police arrest and detain ruling party opponents on Friday or Thursday.
Andrew Sakala, president of the Press Association of Zambia told International media that Zambia is increasingly restricting the freedom of the press, with journalists being intimidated and threatened with arrest as the government faces criticism over economic problems.
In 1997, Fred M’membe was acquitted of a similar, stupid charge.
The High Court that time said that ‘for one to be held criminally liable the information received must be classified and that he must receive the information with knowledge or reasonable grounds to believe at the time when he receives the information that the same information has been communicated to him in contravention of the State Security Act’
The Court further said that ‘the matters to be classified for the purposes of the State Security Act must be those which the Legislature intended to be covered by the State Security Act’
In that old case, M’membe, Masutso Phiri and Bright Mwape were accused of publishing a classified matter by revealing a devious plot by the government to hold a secret referendum on the proposed constitutional amendments.
In that case, Judge Peter Chitengi poured scorn on the tendency by government officials to regard every piece of paper they write as ‘state security’
The Judge said:
‘The question that has nagged my mind is whether for the purpose of the State Security Act anything classified by the authorised officer becomes a State Security matter. For instance, if the authorised officer classified a document containing government proposals to build another International Airport at Kabwe as secret, would that kind of classification come with the ambit of the State Security Act?’
He answered his own question saying , ‘on proper construction of State Security Act it seems to me that not everything classified by the authorised officer necessarily becomes a classified matter under the State Security Act. The matters to be classified for the purposes of the State Security Act must be those which the Legislature intended to be covered by the State Security Act.’
The Judge said ‘clearly the State Security Act is intended to deal with serious matters like espionage and sabotage. And applying the ejusdem generis rule of interpretation the other activities referred to must be activities akin to espionage and sabotage. They must be activities that tend to subvert the interests of the ………. The heavy penalties prescribed for these offences and the provision to deny accused bail indicate that the conduct aimed at must be very harmful to the interests of the State. Indeed in the NIKUV case SCZ/8/75/96 the Supreme Court was held, for instance that it was wrong to classify a contract for the registration of voters as secret because transparence required that it be not.’