KABWE-based freelance journalist Wilson Pondamali has been acquitted of being in possession of military stores after a prolonged trial which also saw him acquitted of three other charges.
And prominent lawyer and human rights activist Mulilo Kabesha has warned law enforcement agents against being used by politicians to settle scores against perceived enemies.
Kabwe magistrate Maxwell Shiwanga acquitted Pondamali after the State failed to establish that he was in unlawful possession of two military pamphlets.
Facts before the court were that Pondamali was found in possession of two military pamphlets belonging to the Zambia Army.
He, however, denied the charges but the magistrate found him with a case to answer ad put him on his defence.
In his defence, Pondamali explained that pamphlets were brought to his Telecentre business at Chitanda House for photocopying by an unnamed soldier but that he was evicted from the business premises before the soldier went to pick the documents.
The State called one of the four witnesses while Mr Pondamali called two witnesses to testify in the matter.
Delivering judgment in a packed courtroom, magistrate Shiwanga said there was no evidence tallying with the Defence Services Act which described military stores as any artifacts that were used by the army.
He stated that it was clear that Mr Pondamali had no use of the said pamphlets and that he was not privileged to check what customers brought for photocopying, hence he could not establish what he had were military books.
Magistrate Shiwanga also said the State failed to prove that the said materials were unlawfully in Mr Pondamali’s possession.
Last year, police apprehended Pondamali and detained him at Kabwe Central police station. The following day police conducted an early morning search for seditious materials at his home.
After the search which lasted over five hours, police confiscated a number of books, computers, scanners and other data storage devices but failed to establish any seditious materials.
He was thereafter charged with possession of military stores and theft of a library book but when he was taken to court and granted bail, police took him to Mpima prison where he was kept for four days.
Mr Pondamali was later charged with attempted escape from prison and malicious damage to a police vehicle and rearrested.
During his arrest, he fell ill and was taken to Kabwe General Hospital where he was chained to his hospital bed for over 10 days. Mr Pondamali was later acquitted of all the three other charges prior to the latest acquittal.
Meanwhile Mr Kabesha has hailed the acquittal of his client and also said there was clear evidence that Mr Pondamali was just being persecuted.
He has since warned law enforcement officers to avoid the temptation of taking unlawful instructions from higher authorities.
“The idea of police officers always saying ‘we are working under instruction from higher authorities’ is highly unacceptable and must be brought to an end.
And those people in higher authorities must stop using the officers to settle scores with perceived enemies.
This is a landmark judgment for my client in particular and the media in general,” Mr Kabesha said.
And speaking soon after his acquittal, Mr Pondamali said he had been vindicated and pledged to continue fighting for media freedom in Zambia and beyond.
“This is a landmark victory for the media especially that it has happened at the time MISA is commemorating the Access to Information Day.
I am resolved to continue being objective and promoting media freedoms in Zambia and beyond, I am actually now even better baked than I was a year ago,” Mr Pondamali said.