His Excellency President Edgar Lungu
President of Zambia
Via fax and email
29 June 2016
We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries, to express our grave concern at the closure of The Post, which will have a seriously adverse impact on press freedom in your country, as well as to express our outrage at the reported beating and arrest of editor-in-chief, Fred M'membe, his wife, and the newspaper’s deputy managing editor.
According to reports, on 21st June the Zambia Revenue Authority closed The Post Newspaper Limited, demanding that the company immediately pay a total of K68 million (approximately US$6.1 million) in tax arrears. The Post, which has often been a vocal critic of the government, reportedly claims that the taxes have already been paid.
In a deeply concerning escalation, Mr M’membe, his wife Mutinta, and deputy managing editor Joseph Mwenda were arrested after gaining entry to The Post’s head office in Rhodespark following a stay granted by the court to delay the Revenue Authority from seizing the newspaper's property. Reports suggest that police disregarded the stay and instead took the three into custody, not before administering what has been described as a “brutal” beating.
We are concerned that the authorities should close a news outlet that plays such an important role in the democratic life of Zambia two months ahead of elections. Its shutting and the reported arrest of its editor-in-chief at such a time, in such a heavy-handed manner, raises questions of political interference.
We respectfully remind you that the government has a duty to support the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.”
We respectfully call on you to take all possible steps to ensure that The Post is allowed to operate throughout the election period so that it can contribute to free and fair elections, and urge you to ensure that it is treated in the same way as any other media company. We ask that your government fully respects its international obligations to freedom of expression and urge you to call for the release of Mr M’membe and his fellow detainees. Furthermore, we count on you to set the example – to police, government institutions and those in authority – that impunity for crimes against journalists will not be tolerated in Zambia, and must insist that any claim of police brutality be thoroughly investigated and - if found guilty – the perpetrators brought to justice.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Editors Forum
WAN-IFRA is the global organisation for the world’s newspapers and news publishers, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organisation groups 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries.