- There were worldwide voices of protest after Zimbabwean police on Friday violently closed down the country most prominent independent newspaper, 'The Daily News'. Also Zimbabweans today expressed their disgust with this last government attack on the freedom of expression.
On Thursday 11 September, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court ruled that the 'Daily News' must register as a mass media house, according to the provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) before it could contest the constitutionality of AIPPA in court.
The 'Daily News' originally had refused to register as required under the AIPPA, claiming the Act was unconstitutional. In public statements following Thursday's verdict, the 'Daily News' had however described its intention to comply with this ruling, and stated that it would begin the process of registering the paper.
Hardly a day after the judgement was handed down, however, over 100 armed police officers and soldiers stormed the newspaper and demanded that the staff stop their work and evacuate the building. They did not show a court order, and did not give any legal justification for their actions, but simply told the staff present to stop work and disappear. They were told that if they tried to defy this order, the police would come after them personally.
Nqobile Nyathi, the 'Daily News' editor, and Simon Ngena, the newspaper's production manager, were arrested and taken to Harare central police station. They were released later that same day. Also ANZ chairman Sam Nkomo was temporarily arrested over the weekend. ANZ is the publisher of the 'Daily News'.
The newspaper's editors and lawyers have strongly protested the police's closure of the 'Daily News' and are now fighting for its reopening. They filed their registration with the Media and Information Commission on Monday morning, but up until Monday night the police details were still on patrol and their offices were still blocked.
Government officials already have made it clear they will not assist in a rapid reopening of the 'Daily News'. The Media Commission's chairman, Tafataona Mahoso says that the closure of the 'Daily News' is indefinite even if the newspaper registered with his Commission.
Mr Mahoso told the state owned 'Sunday Mail' newspaper that the registration process involved evaluation of the information submitted on the forms and this can take longer. No time frame was given as to when this might happen. "Arriving at the doorsteps [of the Commission] does not mean that they will be registered. It was them who went to the court to report their crime and not us," said Mr Mahoso.
The closure of the Daily News has been roundly condemned by pro-democracy and media organisations in Zimbabwe and internationally as a blow on press and freedom of expression. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) today protested the harsh measures by Zimbabwean police and recalled the continued attacks against newspaper since it was founded in 1999.
The "constant exposure of state lawlessness, corruption and violent repression" by the 'Daily News' had been "a thorn in the regime's side," noted MISA researcher Zoe Titus. "It has been the target of three bombings and has endured the frequent arrest of its editors, journalists and other staff. Many of their staff has been assaulted and the ruling party’s militias regularly burn copies of the paper in public," she added.
Also the Zimbabwean underground opposition movement Zvakwana today stated it was "disgusted by the heavy handed behaviour" of Zimbabwean police during the action against the 'Daily News'. The group urged Zimbabweans to "continue the consumer boycott on 'The Herald'," a state-owned daily made famous by its government propaganda. "Don't start buying it just because you want a newspaper to read," Zvakwana said in a statement.
The still legal opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), today joined the protest. "The regime continues to trample on all the rights and freedoms of Zimbabweans with impunity. Sadly, there are some nations and international organisations that continue to voice support for this violent regime," the MDC said in a statement.
Further, strong reactions were voiced from abroad today. "We are outraged that the Daily News has been closed," said Ann Cooper, director of the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). "This is an affront not only to the brave journalists who put out this paper each day but also to the people of Zimbabwe," she added.
The Paris-based media watchdogs Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) already on Saturday strongly "condemned" the closure of the 'Daily News', saying it was "clearly aimed at silencing the country's only independent daily because of its criticism of President Robert Mugabe's government."
afrol News today joined the international protests over the Zimbabwean authorities' attack on one of the last strongholds of free expression in the country. afrol News has been working together with the 'Daily News' through the Misanet news exchange network since 2001.
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