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Zambia: Penal Code Provision Criticized for Restricting Freedom of Expression

(June 15, 2010) On June 8, 2010, Pansy Tlakula, the African Union's special rapporteur on freedom of expression and access to information in Africa, urged the Zambian government to repeal section 116(1)(d) of the Zambian Penal Code. Tlakula called the provision contrary to regional and international instruments guaranteeing the freedom of expression, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa. (Chantelle Benjamin, Tlakula Urges Repeal of Repressive Zambian Law, BUSINESSDAY, Jun. 9, 2010, available at

This provision makes some reporting on criminal proceedings an offense. Specifically, it provides that:

Any person who— … while a judicial proceeding is pending, makes use of any speech or writing, misrepresenting such proceeding, or capable of prejudicing any person in favor of or against any parties to such proceeding, or calculated to lower the authority of any person before whom such proceeding is being had or taken … is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for six months or to a fine … . (Penal Code, Cap. 87, 7 LAWS OF ZAMBIA (rev. ed. 1996), §116(1)(d), Zambian Parliament portal, (last visited June 14, 2010).)

Tlakula's appeal came in the wake of the conviction on June 4, 2010, of Fred M'mbembe, editor of the ZAMBIAN POST, for criticizing criminal charges against Chansa Kabwela, the news editor at the ZAMBIAN POST. (Mandy Rossouw, Zambian President Challenged over Violation of Freedom of Speech, MAIL & GUARDIAN, June 11, 2010, available at
.) Kabwela was charged with distributing obscene material with intent to corrupt for having emailed to local politicians pictures of a woman in labor outside a hospital during a nurses' strike. She was acquitted of the charges. (Id.) M'mbembe was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to four months' hard labor. He has been released on bail pending his appeal. (Id.)