On February 17, the Zambian Supreme Court ruled that the liquidation process of The Post newspaper was illegal, ordering it to be restarted in the High Court under a new judge to ensure “compliance with the relevant legal provisions”. The Post was shut down by officers of the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) in 2016, just 51 days before the country’s election.
In June 2016, the ZRA alleged the newspaper had failed to pay its debts and taxes, leading to its forced closure and liquidation. The Post denied those claims. Lewis Mosho was appointed liquidator by Lusaka High Court judge Sunday Nkonde in November 2016. IPI strongly condemned the closure, noting that The Post was one of the only media outlets providing balanced coverage of the election, which included a referendum on constitutional changes. The ruling Patriotic Front party, led by then-President Edgar Lungu, had actively worked to deny media coverage to the opposition. The Post had previously faced other forms of harassment by authorities.
A large part of the reason why the Supreme Court overturned the liquidation was that The Post’s former editor-in-chief, Fred M’membe, was excluded from the liquidation process. According to the Supreme Court’s statement, M’membe was not a part of the order that validated the liquidation of the company nor were his arguments heard in the liquidation process.
The Supreme Court explained in its ruling, “It is this frustrating and somewhat bewildering experience that led the appellants to conclude, as we are able to discern from their grievance, that the judge that dealt with the liquidation behaved in an intemperate or unjudicial way by literally shutting the door to justice in their face.”
“We note that much time has passed since the purported liquidation”, the judges said. “We do not believe, however, that such passage of the time has sanitized the wrongful manner in which the liquidation was conducted.”
IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen welcomed the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“While it does not undo the damage done, the Supreme Court’s ruling is a belated acknowledgement of the serious irregularities behind the forced closure and liquidation of The Post, which was an important journalistic voice. We hope this decision heralds greater respect for press freedom and the rule of law in Zambia.”
Commitment to improving press freedom
The Supreme Court ruled that the re-liquidation proceedings will be between the original parties “as they were when the petition was filed” and Mosho will be joined as a third party “for purposes of receiving all the necessary reports from the liquidator and considering his personal liability.” Following this ruling, Mosho filed a motion to set aside the Supreme Court’s decision because the appeal by The Post was commenced without his knowledge or authority.
Joan Chirwa, the former managing editor of The Post, told IPI on February 23 that while this ruling won’t resurrect The Post, considering it no longer has any funds, it is important because it shows that the judiciary has the independence to “make decisions that espouse the rule of law”.
“This will serve as a good lesson to future governments to never use political power for personal gain,” Chirwa said. “I hope the new President Mr. Hakainde Hichilema will stick to the promises he has made that his government will not interfere in the operations of the press and that he will ensure maximum press freedom for all journalists.”
The government’s liquidation of The Post was preceded by multiple incidents that showcased the government’s dislike of the newspaper. Two Post journalists were criminally charged with defaming Lungu in April 2016 and in November 2015, the ZRA raided the newsroom over disputed tax obligations. Authorities also targeted M’membe in the past for allegedly disclosing classified information.
In August 2021, Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development (UPND) was elected president. In one of his first addresses to the nation, he committed to improving press freedom. The UPND criticized the closure of The Post in 2016.