A Zambian editor charged with distributing pornography for sending photographs of a woman forced to give birth on a street during a hospital strike to officials has been acquitted by a court in Lusaka, the capital.
Chief Resident Magistrate Charles Kafunda ruled Monday that there was no evidence the photos were obscene or likely to corrupt public morals.
Chansa Kabwela, the news editor of the independent newspaper the Post, decided the photos were too shocking to publish but sent them to senior government officials and two women's groups to draw attention to the hospital crisis. She was arrested and charged with circulating pornography after President Rupiah Banda publicly urged police to take action.
She could have faced up to five years in prison if convicted.
One of the photos showed a woman on the ground outside a hospital in Lusaka where she had been unable to get care. The body of her dead, partially born infant was visible. Other photos showed people helping the woman out of a vehicle as she was giving birth.
The photos were taken in June by the pregnant woman's husband. Kabwela argued that sending them to officials, including the nation's deputy president and the health minister, did not constitute distributing pornography. The real issue was the hospital strike that deprived Zambians of health care for a month, she said.
Some news media advocates say the charges were designed to exert political pressure on the Post, which has been critical of the Banda government. Critics say media freedom has been eroding in Zambia.
"I'm happy that the court has vindicated me. This is a victory for the media," Kabwela told reporters after the judgment. She said it was possible the charges were political because it was clear the photos weren't pornographic.
Kafunda, the magistrate, said witnesses who had seen the photos testified that they were disgusting, shocking and unacceptable, but not that they were obscene.
"The prosecution failed to establish a prima facie element of obscenity," Kafunda said. "I therefore dismiss the case and acquit the accused person accordingly."
Zambian prosecutors made no immediate announcement on whether they would appeal the ruling.