Alliance for Better Zambia (ABZ) president Frank Bwalya has been acquitted of charges of defaming President Michael Sata in a case in which he had likened the Head of State to a sweet potato.
In January this year, Father Bwalya was arrested after he used a Bemba idiom; ‘chumbu munshololwa’ in reference to President Sata’s uncompromising stance on national issues.
This was when Fr Bwalya featured on Radio Mano, on a paid for programme.
In acquitting Fr Bwalya, Kasama Magistrate Vincent Siloka said he had listened more than ten times to the recording in which it was alleged that the ABZ leader had insulted President Sata but did not hear any part where the opposition leader had called the Head of State ichipuba, ushitontokanya and muwelewele.
Magistrate Siloka said the words he heard from the radio recording was Fr Bwalya likening President Sata to a sweet potato when he said the Head of State was chumbu munshololwa which was not an insult but an idiom.
Magistrate Siloka has however emphasised the need to respect the office of President while stating that freedom of expression should be observed at all times.
The Magistrate among many of the pronouncements in his ruling observed that freedom of expression in a democracy must always be encouraged.
He ruled that Fr Bwalya as a politician had the right to criticize government and expose its short-comings as a way of wrestling power from the party in government in order to use the same for the good of the country should the electorate vote for his political party.
Magistrate Siloka said there was nothing wrong with Fr Bwalya criticising the party in government because that was the function of the opposition of providing checks and balances.
And Fr Bwalya told the Daily Nation that he was happy to have been acquitted.
He said Magistrate Siloka’s ruling would enhance freedom of expression and democracy in Zambia.
Fr Bwalya said the pronouncements made by Magistrate Siloka had added precedence to the courts to promote freedom of expression.
He said the ruling by the Kasama Magistrate would promote the kind of criticism that provided checks and balances in a democracy.
“I am happy not because I have been acquitted but because of what the Magistrate said in his ruling about the need to promote freedom of expression and democracy in Zambia.” he said
The Magistrate among many other progressive pronouncements emphasised the promotion of freedom of expression in a democracy. These pronouncements and many others have added precedence to our courts to promote freedom of expression and democracy,’ Fr Bwalya said.
The ABZ leader said being left off the hook without the pronouncement from Magistrate Siloka would not have made him happy because his aim was to defend the freedom of expression and contribute to the full domestication of democracy in Zambia.
Fr Bwalya said he had forgiven the Patriotic Front (PF) cadres who tried to kill him when he was featuring on a programme on Radio Mano.
He also said he would endeavour to emulate President Sata who played his role of criticising the MMD while he was in the opposition.