The Post Newspaper in Zambia: Closure of the country’s only independent paper and arrest of Fred M’Membe and others The Post Newspaper in Zambia is now 25 years old. It was a product of the
emergency of multiparty politics and the democratisation of the political space in 1991. It is Zambia's leading independent newspaper and print media organization with offices in 15 Zambian towns, a circulation of 50,000 copies and has an estimated readership of around 550,000 people (in a population of 16 million people). It employs about 1,000 full-time staff and a good number of part-time staff, correspondents, casuals and street vendors all over Zambia.
It epitomises freedom of speech, civil courage and resilience in a harsh political environment. Zambia’s political leadership has an uncontested monopoly over the public print and electronic media, has politically and economically coerced the few existing private media houses into submission and harshly supresses divergent and critical views.
Over the past two decades, The Post Newspaper has stood firm and exposed corruption, malpractices and inertia in public institutions and government. As such, it has faced countless litigations, arrest and imprisonment of its reporters – with the Managing Director, Fred M’Membe being a target for more than 50 lawsuits and being imprisoned on several occasions.
Internationally, M'membe has continued to receive awards for his immense contributions. He was the third recipient of the Media Institute of Southern Africa's Press Freedom Award in 1995. MISA described him as "the most persecuted journalist” in his country and the rest of the region. In the same year, he won the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists - an annual recognition of courageous journalism. In 2000, he was selected by the International Press Institute as one of the 50 "World Press Freedom Heroes" of the organization's fifty years of existence. He has continued to receive many more awards and recognitions from international institutions and media professional bodies.
The current government, under President Edgar Lungu, has made its intentions very clear: it declared war on the newspaper, threatened to kill the Managing Director and threatened to indefinitely close the newspaper.
On the 21st June, 2016 around 17:00 Zambian time, the Zambia Revenue Authority, under instructions from the President of the country, arrived at the newspaper offices in the company of armed police and demanded that the newspaper pays a total of US$6.1 million disputed tax arrears immediately. The staff of the newspaper was immediately chanced out of the offices, the printing press switched off and all offices locked up. The aim is now to dispose off all operating assets of the newspaper and cripple it.
Following the closure of the newspaper, there has been a huge uproar amongst the country’s opposition political parties, civil society and the general public in Zambia. Even the US government, the United Nations and the European Union have released statement protesting on the forced shutdown of The Post Newspaper, so outrageous it is. The latest attack from the Zambian government to The Post Newspaper was carried out yesterday, 27th June. After the Revenue Tribunal demanded that The Post reopens, the government defied the order. The police came to Fred M’Membe, his wife Mutinta Mazoka, and the News Editor Joseph Mwenda. They were severely beaten and arrested and are now incarcerated at Lusaka Central Police. This is a terrible development, proving that the Zambian government is becoming more repressive and dangerous.
Without The Post Newspaper, the country is now without a critical mouthpiece during the on-going general and presidential elections’ campaign. The 11 th August 2016 is the voting day. The ruling Patriotic Front under President Lungu has therefore timely taken away the only platform Zambians have continually used to expose corruption and other malpractices during elections times. With the closure of The Post, the little remaining resemblance of freedom of speech and of the media has disappeared.
Image Courtesy: Wikipedia
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