- Concern is growing over an observed wave of attacks on the right of free expression in Zimbabwe. The latest excesses of the regime of President Robert Mugabe include an attempted ban on British cricket journalists and an eight months jail sentence for anti-Mugabe remarks made in a bus.
The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today expressed concern over these negative tendencies in Zimbabwe. According to the group, there have been around 50 incidents this year, "some of them absurd," in the government's efforts to clamp down on free expression
The Zimbabwean government's attempt to ban British journalists from covering an international cricket match in Harare was only "further proof" that Zimbabwe was "stuck in a dead-end" and that it "deserves its reputation as one of the worst violators of press freedom, in contradiction with its international commitments," RSF said today.
The government dropped its ban on cricket journalists yesterday after a day-long standoff and foreign pressure and gave the British media professionals entry visas to report on the England-Zimbabwe match, set for today but now postponed. Those initially banned were from the 'BBC', 'The Times', 'Sunday Times', 'News of the World', 'Sun' and 'Daily Mirror'.
Other "arbitrary measures" by President Robert Mugabe's government included the case of Reason Tafirei on 10 November. The jobless man was arrested in Harare and sentenced to eight months in prison or 140 hours of cleaning in a school for remarks supposedly undermining the President's authority.
He had told fellow bus passengers that Mr Mugabe was a dictator while British Prime Minister Tony Blair was a liberator. An official of the ruling Zanu-PF party who heard him ordered the bus driver to go to the nearest police station, where Mr Tafirei was arrested.
On 15 October, as opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai left court after being cleared of treason, 'Associated Press' photographer Angus Shaw was arrested by a stranger and bundled into a jeep without number-plates. He was freed shortly afterwards without any formalities or explanation.
On 16 September, the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) ordered editor Chakaodza Bornwell of the newspaper 'The Standard', to hand over the negatives of pictures of President Mugabe taken at the Harare Agricultural Show the previous month.
'The Standard' ran a photo on 29 August of the President hoisting up his trousers, with the caption "Smartening up". As the pictures were taken on a digital camera, there were no negatives, but the commission continued to threaten the paper with prosecution if it did not provide them.
On 10 January, 'Zimbabwe Independent' editor Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and two of the newspaper's reporters, Dumisani Muleya and Itai Dzamara, were arrested and held for several days on the orders of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo after the newspaper said President Mugabe had requisitioned an Air Zimbabwe plane while he was on holiday in Asia.
Information Minister Moyo later admitted the report was true and thus not libellous but claimed that printing a true story about the President was "blasphemous." President Mugabe thus seems to have achieved a divine status among certain Zimbabwean circles.
Also in January, MIC chairman Tafataona Mohoso threatened 'The Independent' with prosecution for running an editorial that simply called Zimbabweans "an unthinking lot."
Only a few independent media organisations have survived the hardened environment in Zimbabwe during the last few years. With the still contested closing of the independent 'Daily News', no independent daily newspaper exists to give Zimbabweans an alternative viewpoint. Several weeklies, including 'The Standard' and 'The Independent', have however maintained their free voice despite the hardships.
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