afrol News, 17 January - Local and international pressure has moved Robert Mugabe's government to withdraw the draconian 'Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill'. Instead, the government is to amend its controversial media law.
The disputed media bill originally was scheduled to be pushed through the Zimbabwean parliament on Tuesday, but was adjourned. The bill was designed to silence the independent media and to ban foreign journalists from working in Zimbabwe. Further, local journalists would have to register with the government or face two years imprisonment.
The bill was opposed to by the entire opposition and even criticised from the government party's own benches. Further, President Mugabe on Monday had assured his fellow Southern African presidents of his "commitment to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the constitution of Zimbabwe," and reaffirmed the "practice of allowing national and international journalists to cover important national events, including elections."
Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Moyo today informed the 'Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill' had been withdrawn to allow for some amendments to be made to the draft law. He indicated it would be due to be re-submitted to parliament for debate next week.
The withdrawal of the bill is however understood as Mugabe bowing to the massive pressure from abroad. Approving the disputed media bill the day after making concessions to his Southern African colleagues would have been seen as an outright provocation. Further, the USA, the Commonwealth and the European Union have threatened with sanctions should the situation in Zimbabwe deteriorate even more.
Also national pressure was high against the media bill. Leading Zimbabwean media organisations on Tuesday stated they would "be left with no other alternative, but to defy the new law," if passed. The main opposition party MDC described the law as fascist.
The media bill was part of a package of draconian bills presented by Mugabe's government with the aim of winning the March presidential elections. While the media bill was to curtail the independent press, a public order and security bill, making political arrests easier, has already been approved.
The labour bill, which is still being debated a high temperature in the Zimbabwean parliament, goes a long way in enabling the government to ban trade unions. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is an earlier trade union leader, and the MDC has strong support among unions.
Together with the approved banning non-government election monitors, these laws would seriously blow the opposition's possibility to win the presidential elections. Independent press reports from Zimbabwe also underline the importance of this law package for the March elections.
The Zimbabwean 'Daily News' - enjoying that the ruling party "chickened out" on the media bill, analyses the "two parties are fighting for survival" over the issue of the controversial bills.
So far, the government has noted victories over the public order bill and seems to be winning the battle over the labour bill. The MDC thus has won over the media bill and with Tuesday's statement by Mugabe, international election observers would be allowed. The MDC victories were however only possible due to strong, international pressure, especially from Zimbabwe's neighbours.