POLICE in Lusaka, in a hunt for governance activist Sikaile Sikaile for allegedly defaming President Edgar Lungu, yesterday recorded a warn and caution statement from Mast newspaper journalist Chambwa Moonga over the matter.
Moonga, accompanied by Mast deputy managing editor Speedwell Mupuchi and ethics editor Ernest Chanda, arrived at Lusaka Central Police Station slightly before 10:00 hours yesterday.
He was represented by Mable Chakoleka and Saka Kateka, all from Nchito and Nchito Advocates.
Particulars of the offence, according to the police, are that Moonga defamed President Edgar Lungu in an article he authored last week.
The said article, under the pen name Chimweta Luyando, was published in The Mast newspaper edition No. 1228 on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 under the headline: LUNGU A CHIEF THUG …who threatened ConCourt judges – Sikaile.
Sikaile Sikaile is a good governance and human rights activist.
The investigations team was led by Lusaka Province deputy police criminal investigations officer Paul Sapaulu.
Others were Lusaka district criminal investigations officer Trywell Mbale, Kelvin Banda, Billy Daka and two other officers, all identified as Phiri.
The officers pressed Moonga to avail them with the phone number for Sikaile but counsel Chakoleka could not allow it.
She argued that it was the police’s duty to find Sikaile’s contact details and not The Mast.
After minutes of insistence to have Sikaile’s phone number failed, some police officers excused themselves to confer.
Once they had returned into the police conference room, officer Daka recorded a warn and caution statement from Moonga, 29, of Kamwala in Lusaka.
Daka asked Moonga details of his origin, including his tribe, details which were requested earlier by Mbale.
The warn and caution statement indicated that Moonga had been charged with defamation of the President, contrary to section 69 (1) Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia.
Section 69 of the Penal Code provides: “any person who, with intent to bring the President into hatred, ridicule or contempt, publishes any defamatory or insulting matter, whether by writing, print, word of mouth or in any other manner, is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.”
When asked if he understood the allegations levelled against him, Moonga responded: “yes, I do” and then appended his signature to the warn and caution statement.
The journalist was further warned that he was not obliged to say anything, unless he wished to do so but that: “whatever you shall say will be put down in writing and it would be used in court.”
“Do you want to say something to the allegation?” asked officer Daka.
In response, Moonga said: “I elect to remain silent.”
That option for silence was written down and Moonga, again, signed against his answer.
Officer Sapaulu then closed the process and told counsel Chakoleka that she, together with her client, Moonga, may be called again – at some point.
In the meantime, investigations into the matter continue.
Moonga and team left Lusaka Central Police Station around 12:05 hours.
According to Southern Africa Litigation Centre, “There are a number of concerns with this offence. The offence of defamation of the President does not contain the explicit defences that exist in the offence of criminal defamation. Whilst the offence of defamation does not include defamation orally or by gesture, the offence of defamation of the President, does extend to these acts. This offence is archaic and does not fit in a democracy where a President is elected and as a public officer should be willing to face criticism. Public figures ought to be required to tolerate a greater degree of criticism. The sanction is further so severe as to inhibit freedom of expression”.