- Zimbabwe's High Court ruled today to allow the 'Daily News', the country's only independent daily, to resume publishing after being closed for seven days. Meanwhile, the independent weekly 'Standard' is becoming the new star defender of the free word in Zimbabwe.
A Harare High Court judge today ordered authorities to immediately return computers and other equipment confiscated by the police during a Tuesday, 16 September, raid on the offices of the 'Daily News' in addition to allowing the newspaper to resume publishing.
Sources at the 'Daily News' told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that the newspaper could appear back on the stands as early as tomorrow. The staff may use borrowed equipment to publish the paper, since their own has yet to be returned.
The raid on the 'Daily News' offices came after the newspaper was closed on 12 September. On 11 September, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court had said that the 'Daily News' was operating illegally under provisions of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) because the newspaper had not registered with the Media and Information Commission (MIC) while challenging AIPPA at the courts. Before being raided by police, the newspaper had however applied for registering at MIC.
After the violent closure of the newspaper, its publisher immediately challenged the police's action at the High Court. Earlier today, the 'Daily News' asked the High Court to rule that the seizure of its equipment was illegal. Attorneys for the newspaper also argued that the 'Daily News' was entitled under media laws to reopen until its registration application with the state media commission is completed.
The prompt police action caused massive protest within and outside Zimbabwe. Among the protesters in Zimbabwe were the opposition party (MDC) and the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ), which announced that "journalists working in the free media will continue to fight for greater freedoms and the right to expose the excesses of the regime."
Strong words of protest also came from the competition of the 'Daily News', the equally independent weekly 'Standard'. Giving the police assault on the 'Daily News' front-page coverage, 'The Standard' spared their readers of no details from the police brutality during the action.
The current edition of 'The Standard' demonstrates that the weekly's editor would not be intimidated by the growing repression of the press in Zimbabwe. In the regular satiric column "Overthetop" by journalist Brian Latham, 'The Standard' readers again witnessed humoristic but harsh comments:
- When mad dictators emerge in Europe, they get bombed back into the Stone Age, comments Mr Latham. "That is the right and proper thing to do," he adds. "But why is it that when even madder dictators wreak havoc in Africa, their excesses are not just condoned, but actually justified?" He goes on criticising especially South African President Thabo Mbeki for failing to react on atrocities in an unnamed country.
The strong contribution of 'The Standard' to free expression in Zimbabwe - it is currently the only newspaper worthwhile reading in the country - is only flawed by the fact that it is not a daily. A daily and relatively free expression lately only has been delivered by the 'Daily News'. The possible reappearance of the daily tomorrow therefore will have an important impact on Zimbabweans.
Meanwhile, media freedom activist today could cash in on another small victory as three freelance photojournalists who were arrested yesterday at a pro-democracy protest march in the capital were released today after spending the night in a holding cell at Harare's Central Police Station.
Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, Aaron Ufumeli, and Syrus Nhara paid a small fine upon their release and were charged with "interfering with police activity," according to Mr Mukwazhi. The journalists are unsure whether they would be asked to appear in court. Mr Mukwazhi told CPJ that police questioned the journalists, asking them how they knew about the protest, and whether they had obtained official permission to photograph it.
According to news reports, protesters at the march called for the reopening of the 'Daily News'. Police had arrested more than 100 demonstrators before breaking up the rally.
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