THE Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) says the rule of law in the country is under severe threat.
Briefing the press today, LAZ president Linda Kasonde condemned the beating and arresting of the Post editor-in-chief Fred M’membe, his wife Mutinta Mazoka M’membe and news editor Joseph Mwenda by the police in the early hours of today.
Ms. Kasonde said her organization was appalled by the excessive action taken by the Zambia Revenue Authority and the Zambia Police in closing The Post newspaper offices on June 21, 2016.
“LAZ is therefore alarmed by the brutal manner in which the police service arrested and beat up The Post editors Fred M’membe and Joseph Mwenda and M’membe’s wife Mutinta Mazoka following an attempt to enforce a legally binding order by the Revenue Appeals Tribunal dated June 27, 2016 ordering the release of the items that were seized from The Post by ZRA on June 21, 2016,” said Ms. Kasonde.
“It has also come to LAZ’s attention that the police man-handled their lawyers Mr Nchima Nchito SC and Mr Chisuwo Hamwela who were present to represent The Post’s interests. Whilst, we cannot comment on the merits of the matter that is in court, the fact that the law enforcement agencies disregarded a legally binding order clearly suggests that the decision to close the newspaper was made in bad faith.”
Ms. Kasonde said the move by ZRA to close the newspaper in an election year was a bad one as Zambians would be deprived of an additional independent source of information.
She said this is not the first time that a public authority had ignored a court order. “LAZ is concerned that the rule of law in the country is under severe threat. The manner in which ZRA and the law enforcement agencies have gone against the Post Newspapers appears to give credence to the argument by the Post that the actions of ZRA and the law enforcement agencies were not only made in bad faith but were also politically motivated, particularly given the position that the newspaper holds as one of only a few independent newspapers in the country. This is more worrying with the impending general elections as Zambians will be deprived of an additional independent source of information,” Ms. Kasonde said.
“LAZ hastens to add that it is not advocating for the public not to pay their taxes; it is in fact a constitutional duty. However, LAZ is of the view that the law should always be applied fairly, equally, consistently and reasonably. We therefore urge ZRA and the law enforcement agencies to immediately honour the court order presented to them and release the goods in question. Their failure to act in accordance with the rule of law calls into question the government’s statement that it has not interfered in this matter and indeed its willingness to adhere to constitutionalism and basic human rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of the media. This episode is a threat to Zambia’s very existence as a credible and legitimate democracy.”