Zambian court jails journalist for calling judiciary to account

Zambia's Supreme Court on Thursday slapped an 18-month jail sentence on a journalist for contempt of court after he accused the judiciary of corruption.

Derrick Sinjela, editor of the Rainbow Newspaper, had questioned one of the court's rulings earlier this year when it overturned a lower court's decision involving two large corporations - Stanbic commercial bank and Savenda Management Services.

In an article he published between April and May this year entitled "Zambian supreme court verdict in the Savenda and Stabic case questionable", Sinjela accused the judges of corruption, suggesting among other things that they had received bribes from Stanbic to reverse the lower court ruling.

In the initial ruling, the High Court found that the bank had wrongly referred Savenda for defaulting on a bank loan.

But the bank appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the verdict.

Sinjela was last month found guilty of contempt of court after he acknowledged he did not have evidence that the judges had received bribes.

"You repeatedly published sensational news and about 90 per cent of stories in the newspaper were about Stanbic. You went to the intent of giving us free copies and you had a huge poster condemning Stanbic and you even went further to consider this court corrupt," judge Marvin Mwanamwambwa told Sinjela in a courtroom filled with scores of journalists and civil society members.

"We therefore sentence you to a custodial sentence of 18 months effective today," he concluded.

The sentencing comes amid growing concern of what opposition has deemed as increased authoritarian behaviour.

In November human rights activist and director of the Southern African Network Against Corruption, Gregory Chifire, was sentenced to six years' jail for criticising the judiciary's handling of the same case.

Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolutions of Dispute (SACCORD) executive director Boniface Chembe, whose NGO specialists in mediation, said he was saddened by Sinjela's sentencing.

"We are saddened by this sentence but I can urge the journalists to be strong and remain professional," Chembe told reporters outside court.

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