IFJ Condemns Mugabe’s “Flagrant Disregard” for Press Freedom After Manhunt Begins for Independent Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the draconian drive by the Zimbabwean authorities to target and intimidate journalists from the Daily News.

“Mugabe’s flagrant disregard for democratic rights and freedom of the press cannot continue without some clear response from the international community,” said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, after 45 journalists were targeted by police in a new campaign against the paper.

On September 12, the Daily News, the country’s only independent daily was closed following a Supreme Court ruling and a subsequent police raid. The paper has not been able to resume publication for over two weeks now. On September 25, police forces in Zimbabwe called 45 of the paper’s journalists to Harare police station, based on a list allegedly provided by the state-run Media Information Commission (MIC). Eleven journalists were charged and released and a police manhunt has been launched to trace the remaining journalists who have fled the capital.

“This militant manhunt only serves to highlight a desperate situation for press freedom in which the voice of independent journalism is being stifled,” said White. “The brutal tactics of the regime must bring about a tough and uncompromising international response”, he said.

The IFJ has strongly opposed the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which imposes a stringent registration and licensing process for all newspapers and journalists in the country. The Daily News challenged the law as unconstitutional, but a High Court ruling warned the paper could not operate outside the law. However, before the paper’s owners could register police closed it down.

A further High Court decision had authorised the temporary use of the newspaper’s premises by staff, although still preventing the publication of articles. However, police entered by force and closed down the Newspaper premises, seizing materials including 127 computers. On September 19, the Media and Information Commission rejected the Newspaper’s application for registration.

Journalists can go to their office and are still being paid but they are not allowed to work. The Daily News management is due to hold a board meeting later this week. The company has challenged the MIC decision in the Administrative Court and is seeking a ruling ordering the police to return seized materials.

The IFJ is meanwhile seeking fresh initiatives from the member states of the Africa Union, the European Union and the United Nations to challenge the attacks on Zimbabwean journalists. “The democratic world should be heard loud and clear in its condemnation of the intimidation and bullying of the regime of Robert Mugabe,” said White. “It is an affront to democracy both within Africa and around the world.”

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries