Zambian police have charged three people connected with an independent newspaper that was shut down in what activists are saying is a crackdown on freedom of speech ahead of a general election. The country’s tax agency, the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), closed The Post newspaper’s offices in the capital Lusaka on June 21, citing $6 million in unpaid taxes. But the newspaper has claimed the unpaid bill is part of an ongoing dispute and has continued to publish from an undisclosed location, posting an acerbic editorial against President Edgar Lungu on Tuesday that claimed its journalists would not be coerced into stopping production.
The paper’s managing editor, Joan Chirwa, told Reuters on Tuesday that editor-in-chief Fred M’membe, his wife Mutinta and deputy managing editor Joseph Mwenda had been arrested late on Monday. A Zambian police spokesperson said that the three had been charged and will appear in court next week on numerous charges, including breaking into a building. The Post’ s office had been shut by the ZRA but Chirwa said they had obtained a court order to resume operations, which followed an appeal at the Revenue Appeals Tribunal. The police, however, denied this order had been signed by ZRA.
Zambia’s press is subject to various limitations and the Southern African country is ranked 114th out of 180 nations in the 2016 World Press Freedom Indexcompiled by Reporters Without Borders. Press freedom agencies have said the move is designed to crack down on opposition to Lungu’s government ahead of August’s vote.