- While a High Court ruling to let Zimbabwe's 'Daily News' resume publishing is being ignored by police and government authorities, this weekend three journalists from the 'Zimbabwe Independent' were arrested by Harare police, accused of "insulting" President Robert Mugabe. They were later released.
The Harare High Court on 9 January had ruled that the 'Daily News' could resume publishing. The Court further had ordered the police to vacate the offices of the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) - which publishes the 'Daily News' - "with immediate effect." The order further states that police officers forthwith refrain from interfering with the normal business activities of the ANZ and its employees.
Although the court order constitutes a total victory for ANZ, police today still are occupying the premises of the publishing house. Harare Police maintain they have not received any such instructions and refuse to reopen the newspaper's printing press, preventing it from reappearing.
The newspaper's staff on Saturday went to work at their downtown Harare offices, but to their surprise found that police still occupied the newspaper's offices and its printing factory. Chief editor Sam Nkomo was thus unable to restart work after a four-month government closure of the 'Daily News'.
The following day, the state-controlled national daily 'The Herald' reported that Zimbabwean authorities planned to appeal the High Court decision, thus intending to delay the publishing of the country's only independent daily newspaper even more.
In another development, 'Zimbabwe Independent' newspaper editor, Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and chief reporter Dumisani Muleya were arrested on 10 January. The three journalists were detained at the Harare Central police station. The police allege that the journalists denigrated President Mugabe by publishing a story that the president "commandeered" an air Zimbabwe plane to take him to Asia.
President Mugabe is on a private visit to Asia, and the 'Zimbabwe Independent' on 11 January reported that Air Zimbabwe had cancelled some flights to take him there, allegedly resulting in a loss of earnings to the public company of Z$ 3 billion (approx. US$ 3.75 million). The story was immediately dismissed by Information and Publicity Minister Jonathan Moyo, who called it "criminally false".
The Minister thus urged law enforcement agencies to act on the three. Mr Moyo said they story was "a deliberate falsehood meant to bring the reputation of the President into disrepute." The three journalists of the independent Zimbabwean weekly newspaper were immediately arrested.
Today, the three were released on a Z$ 20 000 (approximately US$ 24) bail by the magistrate's court, reports Zoe Titus of the Windhoek-based Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA). The journalists' lawyer told Ms Titus that the three had been "charged for criminal defamation, which is a common law offence."
Following protests from MISA, also the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF) issued a protest, commenting that "the year 2004 has started in the worst possible way for press freedom in Zimbabwe."
- The government is no longer even respecting the decisions of the courts, said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. "We are extremely concerned about Zimbabwean journalists' working conditions and call on the authorities to pull back. The people have the right to diverse and independent news and information," Mr Ménard added.
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