Media freedom has taken a further step back in Zambia, as government authorities ordered the closure of the publishing company, Post Newspapers Limited, on 21 June, demanding $6.1 Million tax in arrears. This closure occurred after The Post accused Zambian authorities of selectively applying the law to target the publication for its news coverage.
The United States Embassy in Lusaka expressed U.S. concern over the closure in a press statement issued June 23rd: “The timing of the closure of The Post Newspaper by the Zambian Revenue Authority, only weeks before important elections in Zambia, is of deep concern.The closure of The Post is the loss of an independent voice during the campaign period and election cycle.”
The Zambian government action drew criticism from independent human rights monitors. "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," he said.
In its Human Rights report for 2015, the U.S. State Department noted: “On December 21, the Zambia Media Liaison Committee, characterized the year as one of worst, in terms of violations of press freedom and harassment of journalists. Information Minister and chief government spokesperson Chishimba Kambwili frequently threatened The Post for its criticism of the president, stating the newspaper must be balanced in its reporting.
On April 23, Kambwili dissolved the government Zambia Daily Mail and The Times of Zambia boards and dismissed their managing directors, ostensibly because their terms had ended. Critics, however, alleged Kambwili removed the board members and managing directors for failing to defend the president and ruling party from criticism.”
The U.S. Embassy’s statement continues: “The United States Government urges the Government of the Republic of Zambia to work with the Zambian Revenue Authority and The Post to find a way forward that allows The Post to reopen immediately.The free flow of information to the Zambian people is an essential element of a free, fair, credible and peaceful election.”