Daily Nation newspaper proprietor Richard Sakala and his production editor Simon Mwanza were yesterday arrested by the police and detained in connection with the story the newspaper published on Monday in which Foundation for Democratic Process (FODEP) executive director MacDonald Chipenzi had advised the Zambia police to be open and transparent in their current recruitment exercise to avoid the widely held suspicion that there was a scheme to infuse militia in the service.
Sakala was arrested a day after the police picked up Chipenzi and detained him for issuing a statement in connection with the recruitment of new police officers, an exercise that has come under extreme criticism because of the secrecy surrounding the exercise that over the years had been a public undertaking.
The police have since jointly charged Sakala, Mwanza and Chipenzi with publication of false information with intent to cause public alarm and the police denied the trio bond and they have been detained at the Lusaka Central Police Station.
The trio is expected to appear in court today.
On Monday, the Post Newspaper published an abrasive editorial in which its editor accused Sakala of having embarked on a campaign to malign President Michael Sata and that he (Sakala) should have been jailed for his stories.
According to a statement from the public relations office of the Zambia Police, Sakala, Mwanza and Chipenzi have been charged with publishing false information with intent to cause alarm contrary to section 67 subsections (i and Ii) of the penal code cap 87 the laws of Zambia.
Efforts to have the trio released on police bond failed despite efforts from their lawyers BMC & Company and Dindi & Company because the arresting officer had allegedly left the office soon after the arrest of the three.
The lawyers representing the three complained that the police officers appeared to be acting on instructions as they constantly received phone instructions from ‘higher authorities’.
Civil society organisation that showed solidarity to the trio at the police station included Bishop John Mambo of Chikondi Foundation, members of NGOCC, FODEP, OYV 2410, Zambia council for social development, YALI, MISA Zambia Board members and other media personal from various media houses including state controlled media.
Meanwhile the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia chapter has strongly condemned the PF continued harassment of Journalists in the country.
In a statement availed to the Daily Nation, acting chairperson Hellen Mwale demanded for the immediate release of the trio and dropping of charges as the action was an infringement on freedom of expression. Mwale also said the piece of legislation used to arrest, charge and detain the two journalists and the FODEP chief was archaic and draconian.
“MISA expresses its grave concern at the arrest and charging of the three journalists. The PF in its current mode is a serious threat to Zambia’s good governance record and we call upon all well-meaning citizens to rise and denounce this barbaric and draconian action,” reads the statement in part.
MISA has further challenged the government to state its position on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists in the country.
And opposition UPND spokesperson Charles Kakoma has charged that a newspaper cannot be faulted for conveying a message from the communicator to the general public.
Kakoma says there is no basis for arresting the editor or reporter but it is up to the police to deny existence of such recruitments.
Other journalists arrested and currently appearing in court for tramped up charges are Media trainer Clayson Hamasaka, Freelance journalists Chanda Chimba, Wilson Pondamali and Thomas Zgambo.
Efforts to get a comment from information minister Mwansa Kapeya failed as the minister was in Parliament by press. Chipenzi who is former Post newspaper journalist and now executive director of FODEP has been a serious critic of government and his good governance advocacy campaign has challenged several government’s decisions and actions including the current constitution making process.