Authorities must immediately and unconditionally release the owner of The Post newspaper, Fred M’membe, his wife Mutinta M’membe and the newspaper’s Deputy Managing Editor, Joseph Mwenda, Amnesty International said today.
The three of them were arrested in the early hours of June 28 and are currently being held at the Lusaka Central Police Station without any charges.
“The continued persecution of Fred M’membe, his newspaper and staff is a disturbing attack on independent media and contrary to the rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for Southern Africa.
“Fred M’membe and his newspaper are victims of an attempt by the state to silence critical media and those who speak truth to power. It is unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”
The arrests followed their return to the newspaper’s premises after a court ruled against the Zambia Revenue Authority to allow the newspaper to continue publishing. The newspaper was shut down last week by the authorities, alleging it owed taxes.
Zambian online newspaper, Zambia Reports, has reported that Police engaged in a “physical confrontation” with Fred M’membe before they were taken away.
“The Post and other independent media organizations must be allowed to freely operate particularly in the context of the coming elections. Police conduct against the media organizations brings to question Zambia’s human rights record,” said Muchena.
“Journalists and media houses should be supported to do their work freely and without fear, instead of being victimized for reporting what authorities don’t like.”
Zambian authorities ordered the closure of the publishing company, Post Newspapers Limited, on June 21, 2016, demanding $6.1 million tax in arrears.
The newspaper is alleging selective application of the law by authorities to target the critical news organization.
On July 15, 2015, police arrested Fred M’membe and journalist Mukosha Funga for an article they published in March 2015. The article discussed the investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) of a presidential aide soliciting a bribe from a Chinese businessman to arrange an appointment with the president.
The Post had published a letter from the ACC to the president notifying the president about its investigation. In May 2015, the presidential aide reported the leak to the police, who questioned the journalists before releasing them.
However, on July 15 they were arrested and spent a night in custody before appearing in court, charged with publishing classified information. The journalists were released on bail, which was set at over $3,000 each.