Amnesty International demands release of doctor who ‘defamed’ Lungu

Amnesty International has called for the immediate and unconditional release of a Zambian medical doctor who was slapped with a seven-year jail sentence for allegedly insulting President Edgar Lungu in a Facebook post.

Kwalela Kafunya, a medical doctor at Luampa Mission Hospital in Western Province, was on May 8, 2017, sentenced to seven years imprisonment for defamation of President Lungu and two other offences.

He was charged with three counts of defaming President Lungu, contrary to section 59 Chapter 87, writing threats to murder, contrary to section 218 chapter 87, and giving false information to a public officer contrary to section 125 cap 87 of the laws of Zambia.

Facts of the matter were that Dr Kafunya created a fake Facebook account in the names of another person who works at the same hospital, where he ridiculed the President by posting disturbing remarks, insults and digitally altering images of President Lungu with intent to bring his name into disrepute.

But in a statement, Amnesty International Southern Africa regional director Deprose Muchena said Dr Kafunya’s sentence was an “outrageous” sentence, which was a aimed at cracking down on his freedoms of expression.

Muchena accused the Zambian government of using social media to criminalize dissenting views.

“Dr Kwalela Kafunya has committed no crime yet he has not set foot outside of prison for more than a year. Seven years in jail for ‘insulting the President’ is an outrageous sentence. The Zambian authorities are using social media as a tool to crack down on freedom of expression. Kwalela Kafunya’s plight is sadly typical of the growing criminalization of dissent in Zambia. He must be released immediately and unconditionally,” demanded Muchena.

“Kafunya’s trial was compromised by a number of failings. The police investigation into his case was incomplete and still ongoing during the trial proceedings, while the presence in court of officials from the President’s Office and supporters of the ruling Patriotic Front, may have applied undue pressure on the presiding magistrate. His sentence was broken down into three parts. He was given a two-year sentence for ‘defamation’, another two years for ‘giving false information to a public officer’ and three years for ‘written threat to murder’.”

Meanwhile, Kafunya maintained that he has never operated a false Facebook account or published anything that could be considered defamatory against President Lungu throughout his trail.

         

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