The Zambian Revenue Authority closed the Post newspaper over disputed tax arrears and police fired teargas Wednesday at reporters selling the publication outside its office, the Lusaka-based publication said.
The Post, in a statement on its Facebook page, said officers from the authority arrived at the newspaper’s offices at 5 p.m. Tuesday and demanded the immediate payment of 68 million kwacha ($6.2 million). The officials, who the Post said were operating under instructions from the president’s office, switched off the printing presses and locked up the building, according to the statement.
The 25-year-old Post is Zambia’s longest running privately owned newspaper, has the widest circulation and is often critical of the government. Opposition parties condemned the action, accusing the government of trying to stifle press freedom ahead of presidential polls scheduled for Aug. 11. 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.
“The sudden departure of a major media outlet has left many Zambians incredulous, with some questioning whether the closure of the Post was engineered to help the incumbent president, Edgar Lungu, secure another term in office,” Nick Branson, senior researcher at the Africa Research Institute in London, said by e-mail.
A call to the presidency’s spokesman didn’t connect, while a second one went unanswered.
“This is a blatant attempt to manipulate and suffocate any remaining free-thinking media ahead of elections in 50 days time,” Hakainde Hichilema, the leader of the United Party for National Development and Lungu’s main challenger, said in an e-mailed statement. “President Lungu should know that a free press is a vital lifeline in any country.”