Journalists around the world and Southern Africa expressed defiance today over the new attacks on the independent media launched by the Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.
In the first major executive decision since disputed presidential elections last weekend, Mugabe formally enacted the Access to Information Act, requiring all journalists to be licensed by the government and imposing severe limits on foreign correspondents working in the country.
"It is not without significance after the theft of the elections that Mugabe' first action is to crack down on the media", said Christopher Warren, President of the International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalist's group. "The undemocratic direction of his regime has been confirmed by this latest violation of media rights."
The legislation makes it illegal for journalists to operate without government accreditation. It creates a state-appointed media commission with disciplinary powers to withdraw journalists' licenses, confiscate equipment and jail journalists for up to two years. It also restricts visits by foreign journalists and requires specified assignments to be cleared first by Zimbabwe's embassies in the journalists' home countries. Under recently passed security laws already enacted, journalists can be prosecuted for criticizing Mugabe and the government.
In the run up to last weekend's elections, independent reporters in Zimbabwe were harassed, arrested and threatened by the government and ruling party militants.
"Mugabe is acting like a malicious bully and a coward", said Warren. "He is afraid of the media because he knows he has a lot to hide. His actions may cause great distress to those fighting for democracy in Africa, but they will not see him escape from the scrutiny that his policies and actions require."
The IFJ will work closely with its affiliate, the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and the Southern Africa Journalists' Association to overturn this latest attack on press freedom.