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Zambia12 February 2002

First journalist arrested under new president’s rule

RSF today protested to Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa about the arrest of Fred M’Membe, publisher of the privately-owned daily paper The Post, and called on him "as a matter of duty" to "rapidly reaffirm" his support for press freedom by dropping the charges against the journalist.

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In a letter to the president, RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard deplored the fact that "after less than two months in office, you have ordered the arrest of a journalist." He noted that "several international organisations, including the United Nations, have urged heads of state and government to show more tolerance towards criticism and not to prosecute journalists for ’insults’ or defamation."

RSF learns that M’Membe was detained for several hours on 11 February before being released on bail. He was charged with libel, was due to appear the next day and risked three years in prison. Action was taken against him because of an article in the paper that quoted opposition MP Dipak Patel who called the president a "cabbage." Patel was also arrested by police and held for several hours.

The paper’s management called the moves "a clear act of intimidation originated and executed by frightened people and corrupt regimes shying away from the truth." M’Membe is also being prosecuted for calling former President Frederick Chiluba a "thief" in an editorial.

In this country
10 November - Zambia
Police launch manhunt before finally arresting editor who criticised president
17 June - Zambia
Private press victim of deteriorating political climate
6 January - Zambia
High Court suspends expulsion of Post editorialist
23 January - Zambia
Three journalists arrested, a fourth in hiding
31 July - Zambia
Libel charges dropped against four journalists

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