Lusaka - The decision by the Zambian government to shut down the independent Post newspaper, is a deliberate ploy to silence the media ahead of the August 11 election, rights group Amnesty International has said.
Zambian authorities ordered the closure of the publishing company, Post Newspapers Limited, on June 21, demanding $6.1m in tax arrears.
"The closure of The Post newspaper is a disturbing development clearly designed to silence critical media voices. The shutting down of one of Zambia's main independent newspapers in the run up to an election is an affront to media freedom and the authorities should immediately reverse their decision," said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for southern Africa.
"If the newspaper owes taxes, necessary arrangements should be made to settle the dispute. Shutting down the newspaper threatens the right to freedom of expression."
The Post criticised government's actions, calling them illegal as it had already paid partial amounts in owed taxes and even had a court order to prevent its closure, according to reports.
A report by The Namibian said the development could be seen as a politically-motivated ploy as the paper had been highly critical of President Edgar Lungu who was up for reelection.
The closure of the newspaper came as election campaigning was gaining momentum. The Post was one of the country's few politically outspoken and critically independent newspapers.
On July 15, 2015, police arrested Fred M’membe, owner of the paper, and journalist Mukosha Funga for an article they published in March. The article discussed the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of a presidential aide soliciting a bribe from a Chinese businessman to arrange an appointment with the president.
The Post had published a letter from the ACC to the president notifying him about its investigation. In May, the presidential aide reported the leak to the police, who questioned the journalists before releasing them.
However, on July 15 they were arrested and spent a night in custody before appearing in court, charged with publishing classified information. The journalists were released on bail, which was set at over $3 000 each.
- News24 Nigeria