U.S. Urges Zambia to Let Post Newspaper Reopen as Vote Nears

  • Shutdown of newspaper ‘loss of independent voice,’ U.S. Says
  • Closure carried out by revenue authority over unpaid taxes

The U.S. called on the Zambian government to allow the Post newspaper to reopen after the southern African nation’s revenue authority closed it on Tuesday over non-payment of taxes, describing its shutdown as “the loss of an independent voice” before elections in August.

“The U.S. 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 embassy, based in Lusaka, the capital, said in a statement posted on its website Thursday. “The free flow of information to the Zambian people is an essential element of a free, fair, credible and peaceful election.”

The European Union also criticized the shutdown on its Zambia Facebook page, saying it “is of the utmost concern -- in particular as it occurred during the campaign period leading to the general elections.”

The ruling Patriotic Front said the government was simply trying to recover its tax revenues needed to pay civil servants, soldiers and nurses.  

The 25-year-old Post, Zambia’s longest running privately owned newspaper, is often critical of the government. Opposition parties condemned the action, accusing the authorities of trying to stifle press freedom before the Aug. 11 presidential vote. President Edgar Lungu has led Africa’s second-biggest copper producer since narrowly winning a snap election in January 2015 after Michael Sata died in office.

Presidential Challenge

Lungu is facing a strong challenge from Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development, in the presidential race. The vote takes place against a backdrop of inflation that’s accelerated to more than 20 percent, while economic growth has slowed to the lowest rate since 1998. The economy will expand by close to 3 percent this year from 3.2 percent in 2015, according to the World Bank.

The revenue service says newspaper owes 68 billion kwacha ($6.3 million) in taxes.
 
“The case at hand is simple. The Post owes money the government needs to provide services and in some cases save lives,” the ruling party said in an e-mailed statement. “Once they pay back the money, they will be allowed to operate freely. Americans should  know this because they drag Hollywood stars to court every day for tax crimes.”

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