In Zambia, a waiting game for ‘The Post’
Lusaka, August 2016 – Zambia’s independent newspaper, The Post, remains closed since the country’s revenue authorities seized its assets on July 21 over disputed tax debts. However, the paper has maintained a strong online presence and a scaled-down version of its hard copy edition, which it has been printing clandestinely.
Last month, the African Media Initiative and the International Press Institute joined forces on an emergency press mission to Zambia. At the end of their three days of discussions with a cross-section of stakeholders, including the government, they issued a statement calling on Zambian authorities to allow the paper to reopen immediately. They noted 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”.
AMI and IPI noted that an order by Zambia’s Revenue Appeals Tribunal the previous month had provided a way to resolve the matter, which centres on allegedly unpaid income tax withholding and VAT receipts. The order had directed 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.
The press mission was led by IPI chairman John Yearwood, accompanied by the organization’s director of advocacy and communication, Steve Ellis, and AMI’s senior advisor Wangethi Mwangi.
Expectations were high that The Post would re-open following last week’s General Election, which the incumbent, Edgar Lungu, won amid claims of widespread irregularities. Lungu garnered 50.3% of the vote against the 48% of his opponent,
Hakainde Hichilema, who has since filed an election petition in court.