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Society | Media

Zambian media barred from political trial

afrol News, 6 February - Zambian media and the public were barred from attending the hearings of a tribunal investigating allegations of professional misconduct levelled by President Levy Mwanawasa against Director of Public Prosecution, Mukelebai Mukelebai. President Mwanawasa claims to head a national campaign against corruption and mismanagement.

On 15 January this year, President Mwanawasa suspended Mr Mukelebai, accusing him of having secret meetings with former intelligence Chief Xavier Chungu, who is facing a number of corruption charges in court, and appointed a tribunal to probe his alleged professional misconduct.

Mr Mukelebai at that stage was ordered to hand over all cases he was working on. This included the highly profiled corruption case against ex-President Frederick Chiluba and his links to his former intelligence chief face, Mr Chungu.

The Chiluba case naturally has been followed with keen interest by Zambians. Likewise, the case against Mr Mukelebai has a great public interest due to the allegedly criminal connections in the highest offices of the state during the Chiluba era.

Nevertheless, Tribunal Chairperson Judge Esau Chulu who sat with judges Philip Musonda and Charles Kajimanga, ruled that the 3 February proceedings would be held in camera, despite an application by Mr Mukelabai's lawyer, Vincent Malambo, that they should be open to the public.

Kellys Kaunda - the leader of the Zambia offices of the regional media watchdog Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zambia) - today condemned the decision to bar the media from the proceedings as a violation of the right of journalists to report freely.

- Journalists are there to inform the public about what is happening, said Mr Kaunda, "therefore, having the case of the Director of Public Prosecution heard in camera is an infringement of the journalists' rights as well as the denial of information to the public," he added.

The Zambian Chapter of African Editors' Forum and the Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace also criticised the decision to bar the media and the public from the proceedings.

While the government of President Mwanawasa first made promising efforts to improve the poor press freedom record under the Chiluba administration, MISA-Zambia lately has found a growing number of reasons to complain. The ongoing case against a satirist working at 'The Post' is seen as a renewed government effort to muzzle the media.

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