Zambia’s biggest independent newspaper has been shut down by authorities over unpaid taxes, the editor said, calling the move an attempt to silence it ahead of August elections.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zambia says it is concerned with the closure of The Post Newspaper by the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) as the action “is an assault to democracy and against media freedom.”
In a statement seen by Nehanda Radio, Helen Mwale, the chairperson of Misa Zambia confirmed that the Zambia Revenue Authority had on Tuesday 21st June, 2016 closed The Post Newspaper Limited, demanding that the company pays a total of K68 million (US$6.1 million) disputed tax arrears immediately.
“Closing the Post will not punish the owners but its readers as the paper has immensely contributed to the maintenance of a pluralistic society in which different views, even those considered to be critical and dissenting have been accorded space,” Mwale said.
“It must be stated that freedom of the media and freedom of expression are core principles of democracy where free, diverse and independent media constitute the cornerstone of a democratic society by facilitating free flow of information and principles of transparency and accountability.
“While media institutions, like other entities, need to be up to date with their statutory obligations, it is expected that they are treated in a fair manner and accorded a chance to be heard where disputes are raised following due process.
“It is also important to uphold the principle of non-discrimination in tax issues and it is expected that the same treatment given by the ZRA to The Post should be extended to other media outlets that are owing the authority.
“There is evidence to suggest that The Post is not the only media house that has tax problems in Zambia which clearly shows that the closure of the Post is political move that is beyond tax issues as alleged.
“MISA Zambia therefore appeals to government to stop harassing the Newspaper so that it continues with production as the move to close the Post will have an effect on the employees who have now been sent out of employment,” Mwale said.
The Post admits owing about 53 million kwacha (USD 4.8 million) in unpaid taxes, but Mwenda said the closure of the paper was illegal.
“This is a clear abuse of power because we have paid some money and we even have a court order stopping them from going ahead but they have disobeyed the courts,” he said.
“It’s clear that they want us shut down ahead of the elections.”
General elections are due on August 11.
The Post, which was established in 1991, has been critical of President Edgar Lungu, who is seeking re-election.