(MISA/IFEX) - On 21 January 2003, police picked up three journalists from the privately-owned "The Monitor" newspaper for questioning, in connection with a story it published in its 18 to 21 October 2002 edition. The report linked Harry Mwanawasa, President Levy Mwanawasa's brother, to a corruption case.
"The Monitor" newspaper lawyer Willa Mutofwe told MISA's Zambian chapter, the Zambia Independent Media Association (ZIMA), that editor Arthur Simuchoba, entertainment and sports editor Calvin Kaleyi and chief reporter Chali Nondo were arrested at the newspaper's Lusaka offices at around 9:30 a.m. (local time) by armed plainclothes police officers, and driven to the Lusaka Central Police station for questioning. They were kept at the police station until 3:30 p.m. that same day, when they were released and asked to return on 22 January.
The story in question, entitled "Mwanawasa's brother linked to corruption", alleges that Harry Mwanawasa, who is a senior member of the Zambian intelligence service, abused his office by releasing two suspects who were in police custody in connection with a diamond smuggling racket that was quashed by Zambian security agencies.
Harry Mwanawasa is alleged to have secured the diamond smuggling suspects' release, after they bought him a four-wheel drive vehicle as a bribe.
Mutofwe said police also wanted to question senior reporter Douglas Hampande and news and business editor Mervin Syafunko, who were unavailable at the time of their colleagues' arrest. Hampande reported to police on 22 January, while Syafunko went into hiding.
Simuchoba called the police action "harassment." "The story was solid and can be successfully defended in court. We have a witness and are sure we will win the case," he said.
The Inter-African Network for Human Rights and Development (Afronet), which has majority shares in "The Monitor" newspaper, said in a statement that police were pressured by unnamed higher authorities to begin criminal proceedings against the journalists. Harry Mwanawasa has filed a civil defamation suit against the newspaper. Afronet said the journalists are likely to be charged with one of Zambia's criminal libel laws.
In a 21 January statement, ZIMA Chairman Dickson Jere condemned the journalists' detention. "It was an attempt to silence the newspaper, which is critical of Mwanawasa's government." Jere also condemned "the use of archaic criminal libel laws in defamation cases."
President Mwanawasa has launched a major drive against corruption and has arrested several members of the previous government on charges of corruption.