Zambia: Media bodies call on Zambian govt. to allow Post to reopen

Lusaka, Zambia (PANA) – A team from the International Press Institute (IPI) and the African Media Initiative (AMI) have called on Zambian authorities to allow the independent Post newspaper, closed on 21 June for tax arrears default, to reopen immediately.

The team charged that the apparent politically motivated attempt to silence it ahead of elections is part of a chain of events raising deep concerns over the state of democracy in the country.

The IPI and AMI team was in Lusaka from 13-15 July as part of a joint emergency press freedom mission in which they met with representatives of government, the leading opposition party, The Post, the judiciary, civil society and foreign diplomatic missions to discuss the 21 June closure of The Post’s offices and printing press, and the seizure of its assets, over disputed tax debts of about K53 million. (1US$=K10).

According to a joint statement issued Wednesday, the groups noted that an order by Zambia’s Revenue Appeals Tribunal last month set forth a path to resolve the matter, which centres on allegedly unpaid income tax withholding and VAT receipts.

The order directs the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to release The Post’s bank accounts and hand back its premises and equipment so that it can conduct business.

It also directs The Post to immediately pay whatever portion of a 53 million Kwacha tax bill issued earlier this year that it believes is actually owed and to provide security for the remainder until the true amount can be determined.

“The tax case against The Post is widely perceived to be the result of political pressure by Zambian President Edgar Lungu to silence critics of his ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party ahead of next month’s elections, in which voters will elect the president and members of the General Assembly, and decide whether to adopt changes to the Bill of Rights in Zambia’s Constitution,” the statement said.

The representatives of the two media organizations also noted that government agents have raided printers suspected of printing copies of The Post in recent weeks, even though no court has deemed publication of the daily to be illegal.

“Government representatives have brushed off questions about one of those raids, claiming the printer was the target of unrelated charges, but they have failed to justify others. Voters need and deserve to hear a full range of voices as they decide their future, The Post has played a vital role in providing an alternative to government dominated mass media, the team said.

“Unshackling that voice is critical if Zambians are to vote in an atmosphere that can be deemed free and fair. The sooner that this issue is resolved – and the sooner that The Post and all journalists who choose to play such a role are allowed to do so freely – the better.”

IPI and AMI, in a statement jointly signed by IPI Executive board chair John Yearwood, AMI senior adviser Wangethi Mwangi and IPI director of advocacy and communications Steven Ellis, called on the Zambian government to immediately drop all criminal charges against Post Editor and Co-Founder Fred M’membe, his wife, Mutinta Mazoka-M’membe, and Post Deputy Managing Editor Joseph Mwenda and hold those responsible for assaults on them accountable.

The representatives also called on the government to allow all media outlets in Zambia to operate independently and to cover all parties contesting the 11 August elections in a free and fair manner.

The representatives further called on the government to ensure that the ZRA, as well as all other government entities, is allowed to fulfil its statutory functions without political interference.
-0- PANA MM/VAO 20July2016

20 july 2016 14:21:46

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