The news editor of the Zambian newspaper The Post has gone on trial for allegedly circulating obscene material to politicians, the newspaper states on its Web site.
In early June, Chansa Kabwela wrote to the country’s vice president, health minister and several non-governmental organizations to highlight problems in the country’s health-care system — especially the problems pregnant women faced during a strike by health-care workers. In her letter, Kabwela included several photos of a woman giving birth in a parking lot outside a hospital from which she had been turned away, according to Reporters Without Borders. The country’s president, Rupiah Banda, branded the photos pornographic and called for Kabwela’s arrest and prosecution, according to the press freedom organization. “Kabwela’s arrest is shocking and the grounds are ridiculous,” the organization said in a statement on its Web site after the arrest. Now the trial into the alleged obscene photos has begun in the Lusaka magistrate’s court, the newspaper Web site says. One of the first witnesses, Kenneth Ngosa, a senior private secretary to the vice president, told the court he was immediately disturbed by the pictures he found inside the letter, according to the paper. The Post described the courtroom as “packed to capacity” and said “people from all works of life including musicians and opposition political party members” had come to support Kabwela. Defense lawyer George Chisanga has asked the court to look into whether the president’s order to arrest and prosecute Kabwela could influence the course of justice. A joint statement from several Zambian media organizations, published on The Post’s Web site, calls for the government to amend the law on obscenity to clarify what constitutes obscenity and material that can corrupt morals. The statement concedes that the pictures were in bad taste, but notes that they were sent on behalf of a good cause: to end the strike. CNN efforts to obtain comment from both The Post and the Zambian government have been unsuccessful. According to the latest figures from the World Health Organization, in 2004 the mortality rate of children under 5 years old in Zambia was 182 per 1,000 live births. In the United States, under-5 mortality rate was 8 per 1,000 live births in 2006. Skilled health personnel attended only 43 percent of childbirths in Zambia in 2002, according to the health organization.