- Fred M'membe, the editor and chief executive officer of Zambia's most popular privately owned daily newspaper, 'The Post', today was detained for defamation of President Levy Mwanawasa. The editor has been arrested on several occasions under the previous regime and calmly stated that "The Post has been through all this before."
Armed police officers tried to arrest Mr M'membe yesterday at the premises of 'The Post' in central Lusaka, but an intervention by his lawyer prevented the police action. The editor was asked to head to the police station for "a short interview" in connection with an article that appeared in the Monday edition of 'The Post'.
The arrest took place today after the editor voluntarily surrendered to the authorities at the Kabwata police station. Accompanying Mr M'membe were his lawyer Sam Mujuda, and 'The Post' managing editor Amos Malupenga. The editor was then warned and cautioned under the laws of Zambia, questioned for over an hour, charged with the defamation of President Mwanawasa, and then detained in a police cell.
Mr M'membe's decision to attend the police station ended a 48 hour siege at 'The Post' by the country's security forces. The editor was later released from detention and told to appear before a magistrate's court on 10 November, facing defamation charges.
According to the information contained in the statement warning and cautioning Mr M'membe, "It was alleged that between November 6 and 7, 2005 in Lusaka, with intent to bring the President into hatred, ridicule and contempt, [you] did publish defamatory matter against President Mwanawasa."
The charge relates to an editorial in 'The Post' on Monday, criticising President Mwanawasa for his "foolishness, stupidity and lack of humility." The editorial was written in response to a speech given by the President attacking former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda for implying that the new constitution would have a smoother passage if members of civil society were consulted.
In today's edition of 'The Post', Mr M'membe is as defiant as the daring editor ever has been. "How can one expect arrogant people, liars and people without humility to respond in any other way other than by repression?" Mr M'membe asked in an article. "How can they defend their lies, their arrogance and their lack of humility if not through the abuse of the police? We are ready to face the temerity of our work, we are prepared for the consequences of what we write."
Mr M’membe added that these are "very strange people" who are not moved by big things that affect our people, but don't sleep over trivial. "They can't sleep over us denouncing their conduct as stupid, foolish, and so on and so forth. A big police contingent is mobilised at a huge cost just to come and arrest a simple and humble journalist who has scratched their egos," he told 'The Post' journalist Amos Malupenga.
An award winning journalist, Mr M'membe has had ongoing problems with the Zambian authorities. On 29 June, the editor was told to report to police headquarters for calling on President Mwanawasa to resign, and, on 12 July 2002, he was acquitted, along with three other defendants, of criminal defamation when he alleged that former President Frederick Chiluba was a thief.
Mr M'membe's outspoken criticism and fresh style has made 'The Post' Zambia's by far most popular daily newspaper. 'The Post' is often termed a sensationalist newspaper by its opponents, but it nevertheless remains the favourite newspaper also among the country's intellectuals.
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