Zambia shuts down newspaper in tax dispute

LUSAKA (Reuters) - Zambia’s tax authorities have shut down a newspaper critical of the government, accusing it of failing to pay taxes, its managing editor said on Wednesday.

The Post’s managing editor Joan Chirwa said Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) officials had ignored a court order preventing its closure over a disputed debt of 68 million kwachas ($6 million).

“We have been paying the taxes and this outstanding bill is from an old debt which is in dispute,” Chirwa said.

She said the newspaper had been closed because of its critical editorial policy. “It is not a secret that we are being targeted because of our stand,” she said.

Tax agency officials were not available to comment.

Lee Habasonda, president of Transparency International Zambia, said the action taken by ZRA was excessive.

“We are very concerned that such a thing is happening at this time of campaigns for the August 11 elections,” he said.

In April, police briefly detained two Post journalists over a story quoting an opposition leader as saying President Edgar Lungu had used public funds to pay for a holiday.

Lungu has been in power for just over a year after winning a ballot triggered by the death of his predecessor, Michael Sata, in October 2014. He faces a strong challenge from opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development at the polls.

Reporting by Chris Mfula; Editing by James Macharia and Andrew Roche