The Internet edition of The Post newspaper of February 5 - banned by President Frederick Chiluba in terms of Section 53 of the Penal Code - has been removed from the paper's World Wide Web (WWW) site.
Mark Bennet of Zamnet Communications, the privately-owned Internet service provider which hosts The Post's WWW site, says Zamnet was left with little choice but to make the February 5 edition of The Post inaccessible on the Internet.
Bennet says Zamnet kept the banned version of The Post on the WWW for two days after it was published, but was then warned by a "someone senior in the police" that the company was liable to be raided and charged with possession of a prohibited publication. The President's ban of edition 401 of The Post covered "all forms" of the paper, says Bennet.
Visit The Post's WWW site (http://www.zamnet.zm) and you will find the February 5 edition listed in the paper's archive of back editions, but click on the edition and the file will not open. However, following editions of the paper - containing stories about the banning, the police raid on The Post's offices, and subsequent arrest and charging of Editor-in-Chief Fred M'membe, Managing Editor Bright Mwape and Special Projects Editor Matsautso Phiri with contravening the State Security Act - can be read. The State Security Act charges relate to a report published in the February 5 edition of The Post revealing the government's plans to hold a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution.
A recent addition to the Zamnet WWW site is "Zambia Today" - stories from the state-run news agency ZANA, which are up-dated every couple of hours. "State House was very keen that the world didn't see The Post newspaper alone," said Bennet. "We kept telling them that we were going to keep The Post, but that we were happy to put up a State House page, or a page for ZANA. We are trying to actively encourage them to be positive."
Bennet stresses Zamnet was an independent company and would not succumb to self-censorship as a result of political pressure. Zamnet is housed at the University of Zambia, which has a 52 per cent share holding in the company. Although funded by the government, the University enjoys academic autonomy, says Bennet, "so there is no possibility of pressure (being exerted on Zamnet) through the University".
M'membe, Mwape and Phiri are due to appear in the High Court today to hear whether or not their bail - granted last week Wednesday (February 7) after initially being turned down by a magistrate - can be reviewed. If the court decides their bail can be reviewed, the three stand a chance of returning to jail to await trail on the charges of contravening Section 4 of the State Security Act, which prohibits the publication of classified information. If convicted, the journalists could be jailed for up to 25 years.
However, speaking on Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) news this morning (February 16), Mwape said he was not deterred by the prospect of a lengthy term in jail if convicted. "It is about time such a challenge was made," said Mwape. "The freedom we are talking about will only come if we are prepared to make sacrifices for it."
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Private Bag 13386
Tel. +264 61 232975, Fax. 248016