The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, journalists and media executives for media freedom, today condemned the move by the government of Malawi to close down the office of the Times Group in the capital, Lilongwe, on trumped-up tax-related charges.

Established in 1985, the Times Group is the biggest and oldest media organization in Malawi. It publishes a newspaper, The Times, alongside a radio and TV network.

“In a highly deplorable action the government of Malawi has used the Malawian Tax Authorities to stifle an independent voice and silence a noted critical voice in the country”, IPI Head of Advocacy Ravi R. Prasad said, demanding that the government closure of the offices of the Times Group be immediately revoked. “The Times Group should be allowed to function without such interference and threats, and the government should honour the order of the High Court, which had permitted the Group to continue with the publication.’’

According to the editor-in-chief of the Times Group, George Kasakula, the tax law in Malawi allows for discussion with Malawi Revenue Authority on tax bills. “While other companies are allowed to hold discussions with the Revenue Authority, we were never given that chance. They just came to close down the office, ignoring a High Court order putting a stop to their draconian action’’, Kasakula said.

In a conversation with Communications Minister of Malawi Nicholas Harry Dausi, IPI expressed serious concerns over the closure of the newspaper, describing it as an attack on one of the pillars of democracy and urged him to take immediate action to resolve the issue between the revenue authorities and the management of the newspaper.

Minister Dausi gave a firm assurance that the office of the Times Group will reopen tomorrow, and he has instructed the Malawi Revenue Authority to honour the High Court’s order and hold discussions with the management of the newspaper.