IFJ Calls For Europe to Lead International Action as Press Freedom Faces "Moment of Truth" in Zimbabwe

THE International Federation of Journalists today called for the European Union to lead international community action to "condemn, isolate and put into political quarantine" the Government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe over new restrictions on press freedom.

"The Government in Harare has contempt for democracy and the rights of journalists," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists group "now is a moment of truth for press freedom and for the international community's commitment to democracy in the region."

The IFJ says that the government's controversial media bill banning foreigners from working as correspondents in the country and which proposes jail terms for dissident journalists is a "scandalous assault on freedom of expression". The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act would create a new Media and Information Commission with powers to control all media within Zimbabwe. The move comes after months of attacks on journalists and media organisations that have criticised land seizures, political attacks on independent media and the judiciary, and a campaign of political violence ahead of the presidential elections.

On Friday a meeting between Zimbabwe and the European Union in Brussels will discuss the deepening political crisis. The EU is threatening to impose sanctions on the Mugabe Government.

The IFJ is calling for the European Union and other governmental bodies to break links with Zimbabwe, to impose sanctions and to isolate Zimbabwe in the international community. "The time for action is long overdue," says the IFJ, "journalists, lawyers, trades unionists and defenders of pluralist civil society are being persecuted as they struggle to defend democracy in Zimbabwe."

Although Information Minister Jonathan Moyo told state media at the weekend that the government would move to adopt the media bill 'and would not be deterred by criticism, Zimbabwe media unions say the media bill is draconian and have vowed to defy it.

Under the proposed law, journalists can only work in Zimbabwe if they get a one-year renewable accreditation from a government-appointed commission. The bill imposes registration requirements for private media companies and bars foreign nationals from working as correspondents. The bill also prescribes heavy fines for journalists publishing stories on "protected" information, or news likely to cause alarm and despondency, which could range from rumors, advice offered to Mugabe or minutes of cabinet meetings.

"This is no thin disguise to this attack on journalists," said the IFJ, "It is a determined effort to silence media critics ahead of elections and makes a mockery of democratic notions of free expression."