June 1, 2018 / 3:21 PM / 2 months ago

Malawian tax officials shut head office of critical media group

BLANTYRE (Reuters) - Malawian tax officials have shut the head office of media organization Times Group, its editor in chief said on Friday.

George Kasakula linked the move to Times Group’s criticism of the government and said the Malawi Revenue Authority had ignored a court injunction that would have stopped the closure of its main office in Blantyre over a tax compliance dispute.

A government spokesman said the closure was only because of the tax dispute. Malawian tax officials declined to comment when contacted by Reuters on Friday.

“This is not about taxes but about frustrating us because of our critical editorial policy,” Kasakula told Reuters. “While other companies are allowed negotiations over tax issues, Times Group gets no such fair treatment.”

Malawian government spokesman Nicholas Dausi said: “This is not about stifling media freedoms and frustrating Times Group because of their critical editorial policy. It’s about them failing to pay taxes.”

Freedom House, a non-governmental organization which ranks press freedom worldwide, classified impoverished Malawi as “partly free” in its 2017 ranking.

In 2012 the Malawian government warned journalists and human rights activists that people who insulted the president faced prosecution. A prominent journalist was arrested that year, and some media firms were closed.

Times Group’s television and radio stations were not broadcasting in Malawi on Friday, but news articles were being published on its website.

Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Catherine Evans

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