Zambia Judge Clears Editor in Morals Case Over Photos

A Zambian newspaper editor was acquitted Monday on charges of distributing obscene materials with the intent of corrupting public morals, a case filed against her after she sent photos of a woman in childbirth to government officials and other prominent figures.

Many media advocates in Zambia and throughout the world considered the arrest of Chansa Kabwela, news editor of The Post, to be an assault on press freedom. The newspaper and the government of President Rupiah Banda have been at loggerheads about allegations of public corruption.

“This was a case started by President Banda against us,” Fred M’membe, the paper’s editor in chief, said in comments on The Post’s Web site after the ruling. “He publicly accused us of pornography and called us all sorts of names. He insulted us of being sick, morbid and peculiar.”

In June, during a strike by health workers, a pregnant woman was refused care at a hospital in Lusaka, the capital. The woman gave birth outside the hospital building. Her baby died.

According to Ms. Kabwela, photos were taken during those hectic moments by the woman’s husband. He tearfully took them to The Post in the hope that their publication might avert similar tragedies, she said.

But while the editor judged the pictures to be too graphic for publication, she considered them important. She wanted to send them “to people who had the capacity to end the strike,” she said in an interview after her arrest.

Her mailing list included George Kunda, the country’s vice president; the health minister; the secretary to the cabinet; the archbishop of Lusaka; and two women’s groups. She was arrested a month later.

President Banda had not been sent the photos, but he did learn of them and lashed out against them at a news conference, saying, “I hope those responsible for the law of this country will pursue this matter.”

Members of the women’s groups said the photos belittled the sacred act of birth and invaded the mother’s privacy.

In Monday’s ruling, Magistrate Charles Kafunda described the pictures. They showed the child, reportedly dead, emerging feet first from the distraught mother. The magistrate said he sympathized with witnesses who found the photos to be shocking.

Nevertheless, he said, the prosecution had failed to prove that Ms. Kabwela had used the photos to taint the morals of society.

“I have been vindicated,” Ms. Kabwela said, according to The Post’s Web site. “I have always said that whatever I did was purely out of good will on behalf of The Post.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/17/world/africa/17zambia.html?_r=1

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