The Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) closed down The Post Newspaper Limited, generally considered Zambia’s leading critical newspaper, on 21st June 2016 in relation to charges concerning unpaid taxes amounting to a total of K68 million (approximately US$6.1 million).
On 3rd November 2016, only 36 hours after authorities had placed The Post into liquidation, The Mast was launched under Fred M'membe’s direction.
The ZRA initially attempted to prevent the printing of the new newspaper, stating that the publication was illegal and operating without the necessary tax registration. The Mast and its Editor-in-Chief have since been subject to a growing list of harassment and intimidation, particularly during the month of February 2017.
On 14th February, a court issued an arrest warrant for Mr M'membe and his lawyer Nchima Nchito for disobeying orders to surrender all the assets of the former newspaper, The Post, to the liquidator. The following day police issued the warrant at Mr M'membe’s home, although he was reportedly out of the country. Mutinta M'membe, Fred M'membe's wife and owner of The Mast, was arrested but later released.
“I learnt of the arrest of my wife Mutinta and harassment of my lawyer Nchima Nchito with deep sadness. This was inhuman, unacceptable and done in bad faith. The invasion of my home in my absence was and is a cowardly and desperate act,” Mr M'membe said in a public statement published in the Lusaka Times on 17th February.
Mr M'membe denies being in possession of any property belonging to the liquidated newspaper, claiming that the warrant to arrest him was meant to intimidate, harass and humiliate his family.
“The liquidation of The Post is supposed to be a civil issue. The use of the police, intelligence officers and the entire state machinery, including State House, is unwarranted. It is impunity of the highest order,” continued Mr M’membe.
WAN-IFRA is concerned that underlying personal politics risk undermining the legal process and ultimately harming the media freedom environment in Zambia. “Independent critical media continues to be stifled by political involvement, denying citizens the ability to objectively assess news and information,” said a statement from WAN-IFRA. “Likewise, the harassment and threat of criminal proceedings in what is deemed a civil dispute sends a clear message of intimidation against The Mast and other independent titles in the country. We call on the Zambian authorities to cease their harassment of Fred M’membe and to guarantee a safe and unrestricted environment in which the country’s press can flourish.”
WAN-IFRA will hold its 69th World News Media Congress in Durban, South Africa in June 2017, hosting more than 1,000 publishers, chief editors, managing directors, CEOs and other senior news publishing executives. The congress will also bring together hundreds of participants from WAN-IFRA’s global Media Freedom programmes. WAN-IFRA’s Africa Media Freedom Committee will also direct advocacy actions and targeted campaigns highlighting press freedom issues on the African continent. It is in this context that WAN-IFRA reminds the Zambian authorities of their obligation to respect international standards of freedom of expression.
More information about the World News Media Congress: https://events.wan-ifra.org/events/world-news-media-congress-2017
WAN-IFRA based in Paris, France, and Frankfurt, Germany, with subsidiaries in Singapore, India and Mexico, is the global organisation of the world’s newspapers and news publishers. It represents more than 18,000 publications, 15,000 online sites and over 3,000 companies in more than 120 countries. Its core mission is to defend and promote press freedom, quality journalism and editorial integrity and the development of prosperous businesses. More on www.wan-ifra.org