Unlawful trial of trustees and staffers of an independent radio station postponed in Zimbabwe

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today appealed to the Harare Magistrates Court to drop the arbitrary charges against the ten trustees and staffers of the Radio Station, Voice of the People (VOP).

“They appear before the Court to answer charges relating to their alleged breech of broadcasting laws in Zimbabwe” said a source to IFJ.

The VOP seven trustees and three staffers are indeed accused of possession and operation of transmission equipment without a licence. The VOP is however, a legally registered communications trust and broadcasts in Zimbabwe on shortwave from transmitters stationed outside the country. This situation is due to the repressive media laws in Zimbabwe, which have seen foreign correspondents deported, and all non-pro-government media banned since 2001.

The trial was postponed to 25 September because a key witness for the prosecution, a government broadcasting officer, was said to be out of the country.

The VOP trustees who are being tried are Arnold Tsunga (chairperson of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association), John Masuku (VOP’s executive director), Lawrence Chibwe (senior legal practitioner), Nhlanhla Ngwenya (journalist), Isabella Matambanadzo (journalist and women’s rights activists), David Masunda (a journalist) and Millie Phiri (Former Editor of the national news agency).

The staff members who stand accused are three women namely, Maria Nyanyiwa, Nyasha Bosha and Kundai Mugwanda. On 15 December 2005 when the officers of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) raided the offices of VOP and seized computers and documents, the women were detained without charge for four days.

In August 2002 the VOP offices were demolished after a bomb attack and the perpetrators of this attack are still at large.

“We appeal to the Magistrates of the Harare High Court to be very independent over this matter and to recognise the fundamental rights of those who are brought before the court. The Harare High Court should not be used as a tool to suppress the freedom of speech and of the press in Zimbabwe. We therefore urge the Court to drop the arbitrary charges against the trustees and staffers of the VOP” declared Gabriel Baglo, Director of IFJ Africa Office.

“We also urge the government of Zimbabwe to repeal, as has been recommended by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, ACHPR, her draconian legislations such as the Broadcasting Services Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Public Order and Security Act”.

For further information contact the IFJ: +221 842 01 43

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries