The International Federation of Journalists today called on the government in Zimbabwe to repudiate the action of armed police to closedown the country’s only private newspaper – the Daily News, which has been sharply critical of President Robert Mugabe and his government.
“The closure of the Daily News is the inevitable consequence of an intolerable campaign against independent journalism,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “It is a despicable attempt to stifle dissent and reinforces the isolation of Zimbabwe in the democratic world.”
The IFJ and the Southern African Association of Journalists (SAJA), which groups journalists unions throughout the region, issued statements strongly condemning the law which led to the closure - the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
The law imposes a stringent registration and licensing process for all newspapers and journalists in the country, requiring journalists to provide exhaustive personal details about their families. The licensing process is renewable on a yearly basis, which raises concerns on the political restrictions that the system could introduce.
“AIPPA is a concerted effort by the Zimbabwean authorities to silence independent voices in the country,” said Martin Musunka, SAJA President.
Police shut down the offices of the newspaper yesterday, a day after a court ruled that it was operating illegally because it had not been registered under the press law. The Daily News argued that such a requirement was unconstitutional but Zimbabwe's Supreme Court says the newspaper is operating illegally because it had refused to register with the state Media and the Information Commission (MIC), as required by the media law.
“The closure of this newspaper is not a matter of law, it is a political act,” said Aidan White. He said the Daily News had promised to register after the court ruling, but the police action was taken before it could do so. The IFJ is angry that 20 police officers - some armed with rifles - arrived at the Daily News' Harare office, went into the building and started ordering everyone out. The editor Nqobile Nyathi was detained but later released.
Nine months ago, Zimbabwe Information Minister Jonathan Moyo accused the Daily News of deliberately flouting the law but the paper’s publishers - the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) - said the MIC had refused to accredit the journalists working for the newspaper.
More than a dozen journalists have been charged under the media law, which President Mugabe signed soon after his re-election in 2002. Among them were several Daily News reporters and a correspondent for Britain's Guardian newspaper, Andrew Meldrum, who was later deported.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries