Judgment on whether or not three editors of The Post newspaper will go back to jail has been adjourned until March 7. A High Court judge today ruled that the court could review a decision taken on February 7 to grant bail to Editor-in-Chief Fred M'membe, Managing Editor Bright Mwape and Special Projects Editor Matsautso Phiri. Arguments for and against allowing the journalists out on bail were then presented, before the judge adjourned the hearing until March 7, when a decision on whether or not the three will continue to be granted bail will be given. M'membe, Mwape and Phiri are charged with contravening the State Security Act for a publishing a story in the February 5 edition of The Post revealing that the government planned to hold a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution. The edition was banned by President Frederick Chiluba on the day it was published, and remains a prohibited publication in terms of Section 53 of the Penal Code. No date has yet been set for the editors' trial.
Mwape told MISA this afternoon (February 16) that the cabinet announced yesterday (February 15) that it would go ahead with the referendum which The Post reported on in its February 5 edition. However, Mwape added that none of the Zambian media besides The Post had reported the cabinet's decision for fear of contravening state secrecy laws. President Chiluba last year banned debate on the constitution, although Mwape says no law was cited for this ban.
The government was trying to create a situation whereby the media was too scared to report on controversial issues, said Mwape. "That is why we continue to report on matters that government considers secret, but which we consider to be in the national interest."
Meanwhile, The Post in its February 14 edition reported that journalists from The Post and another privately-owned paper, The Chronicle, were on Tuesday (February 13) barred from entering State House to report on a courtesy call made on President Chiluba by the President of the International Lions Club.
According to The Post, the journalists had initially been invited to cover the event, but arrived to find their names crossed of the list of authorised media.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Private Bag 13386
Tel. +264 61 232975, Fax. 248016