Zambian Government Continues Crackdown on Media

  • Zambian president Edgar Chagwa Lungu speaks at the UN General Assembly in New York, Sept. 29, 2015.
    Zambian president Edgar Chagwa Lungu speaks at the UN General Assembly in New York, Sept. 29, 2015. | Photo: Reuters
As part of efforts to silence critical voices, the Zambian government has shut-down four media outlets in less than five months.

Armed police officers on Wednesday afternoon raided esteemed journalist Dr. Fred M’membe’s residence in Lusaka, Zambia as part of broader government efforts to crack down on alternative media outlets.

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Dr. M’membe was editor-in-chief of Zambia’s main independent newspaper, The Post, which was controversially liquidated and subsequently forced to close after allegations that it owed $6 million in unpaid taxes.

However, the legal charges targeting the Post have been repeatedly denounced by international watchdogs and African social movements as politically motivated efforts to silence dissenting voices within the country.

“It is clear for all to see that the Patriotic Front is determined to eliminate The Post Newspaper, and Fred M’membe himself by any means necessary. Obviously this is an attack on freedom of the press, which is the cornerstone of any democratic society,” Africa’s largest and most influential trade union, NUMSA, said in a statement Thursday.

Meanwhile, in a recent report, the Media Institute of Southern Africa cited that at least two radio stations and a television station have closed since Edgar Lungu was elected President last August.

“It is our view that the said suspension of licenses for the three stations is extreme and has a negative effect on the flow of information as well as a chilling effect on the practice of journalism as it amounts to arbitrary censorship of dissenting views,” the report states.

During Wednesday’s raid, Zambian security forces, who refused to provide a warrant to enter Dr. M’membe’s home, attempted to carry out their search without the presence of lawyers, a witness told the Mast newspaper.

However, Dr. M’membe was not home during Wednesday’s police operation. State security officers arrested his wife, Mutinta, on charges of “obstruction and assault” of a heavily armed police officer.

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“They came in around 16:00 hours and demanded to start searching. But we refused because the lawyers were not here. And Dr. M’membe himself is not around as we speak, he is in Jamaica. And seeing that they could not find Dr M’membe, in frustration, they picked up his wife [Mutinta] after roughing her up, tore her dress in the presence of onlookers who were passing by,” a witness at the scene told the Mast newspaper.

The search and arrest comes after Dr. M’membe issued a legal challenge to the provisional liquidation order, which forced the Post to stop publishing last June by the country’s tax revenue agency.

“The whole issue has been sparked by the move to challenge the liquidation. Zambian tax revenue official Lewis Mosho feels that giving an opportunity to Dr. M’membe in court over the liquidation would be a mistake. He feels that this matter has already gone past redemption and the The Post must never be allowed to recover,” a source told the Mast newspaper.

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