Amnesty International has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Kwalela Kafunya, a medical doctor who is entering his second year in prison in Zambia on what it caked absurd charges of “insulting the president”.
Kwalela Kafunya, who has been in detention since 8 May 2017, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment on 10 January 2018 after what Amnesty International says is a grossly unfair trial.
His arrest followed allegations that he had made derogatory comments about the president on Facebook.
Dr Kafunya who was based at Luampa Mission Hospital in Western Province was convicted by the Mongu Magistrates Court and sentenced to three years imprisonment on three counts of Defamation of the President contrary to section 59 Chapter 87, Written 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 are that Dr Kafunya created a fake Facebook Account for purposes of bringing the name of the Republican President in ridicule by posting disturbing remarks, insults and digitally altering images of the Republican President with intent to bring his name into disrepute using a Facebook account created in the names of another person who is also a medical Doctor at the same Hospital.
Dr Kafunya further sent written threats to murder to the Doctor in whose name the Facebook account was created through text messages while in another count, Dr Kafunya gave False Information to a Public Officer of Simon Mwansa Kapwepwe Police Station.
For the offences of Defamation of the President and Giving False Information to a Public Officer, Dr Kafunya was sentenced to two years imprisonment for each count while for written threat to Murder; he was sentenced to three years.
The sentences are to run concurrently meaning that he will serve a period of three years.
But Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said Dr Kwalela Kafunya has committed no crime yet he has not set foot outside of prison for more than a year.
“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,” said Mr. Muchena.
“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.”
He said Dr Kafunya’s trial was compromised by a number of failings adding that 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.
Mr Muchena said seven years in jail for “insulting the president” is an outrageous sentence.
Throughout the trial Kwalela Kafunya maintained that he has never operated a false Facebook account or published anything that could be considered defamatory against President Lungu.