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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Zimbabwe

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Zimbabwe, February 2005, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the "World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist" in 2004, with the government of President Robert Mugabe continuing to crack down on the private media. Repressive legislation was used to close the country's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, and to detain and harass journalists. Authorities were particularly sensitive to reporting on human rights, economic woes, and political opposition to the regime.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2005, the government said it would not allow the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party access to state-controlled media. MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe, was acquitted of treason in a surprising October court ruling. Yet despite the ruling, the opposition party was considering boycotting the election to protest the uneven playing field.

No foreign correspondents reported from Zimbabwe in 2004 after the last remaining one, Andrew Meldrum of the London-based Guardian newspaper, was deemed "undesirable" and deported in 2003. Local journalists known to be filing for foreign news organizations have been subjected to frequent harassment; in February, three journalists from the state-owned daily The Herald were fired for working for the U.S. government-funded broadcaster Voice of America.

In November, Parliament passed a measure banning foreign-funded, nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights and good government. Independent journalists in Zimbabwe and abroad feared that the legislation would deprive them of important sources on crucial issues. It was but one in a series of repressive new laws rushed through Parliament in the run-up to the elections. Others include the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which imposes up to 20 years' imprisonment, heavy fines, or both for publishing or communicating "false" information deemed prejudicial to the state. Journalists fear that the law could be used broadly against any Zimbabwean who communicates with news outlets or organizations based abroad.

Another measure passed in November toughened the already strict Access to Information and Public Privacy Act (AIPPA), a 2002 law that criminalized practicing journalism without a license from the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC). The 2004 amendments allow authorities to jail any journalist found working without MIC accreditation for up to two years. During parliamentary debate, MDC members called for the repeal of AIPPA, according to South Africa's Mail and Guardian. One MDC parliamentarian noted that AIPPA did not conform to Southern African Development Community (SADC) principles on good government and free press. The SADC comprises 14 southern and central African countries, including Zimbabwe, and promotes sustainable development, democracy, peace, and security.

However, SADC countries, including Zimbabwe's powerful neighbor, South Africa, have been reluctant to criticize Mugabe, with whom they have long-standing ties. South African President Thabo Mbeki has remained publicly supportive of Mugabe and has pressed ahead with a policy of "quiet diplomacy."

In February, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court upheld AIPPA in a constitutional challenge brought by the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe. The association had argued that compulsory registration violated journalists' constitutional rights to free expression. A separate challenge to the law by ANZ, the company that owns The Daily News, was pending at year's end.

The Daily News first closed in September 2003, when the Supreme Court ruled that it was violating the law by not registering with the MIC. Police occupied the newspaper's offices to enforce the ban. The daily briefly resumed publication in January 2004 but was closed at year's end, and local journalists held out little hope that it could reopen before the March 2005 elections. The Daily News continued to publish an online edition from South Africa.

William Saidi, news editor of The Daily News, said AIPPA was being used to destroy his paper. "The Daily News had overtaken the government's newspaper The Herald in circulation and was accused of influencing the elections in 2002, so as some form of punishment, the government decided they would ban The Daily News," he told the BBC in July. Mugabe was re-elected in the 2002 vote, which foreign observers said was marred by violence and intimidation.

In June, authorities closed the private weekly Tribune for a year, saying it had violated AIPPA by failing to notify the MIC of changes in ownership and frequency of publication. Tribune Publisher Kindness Paradza told CPJ the closure was politically motivated, and local journalists noted that Tribune published articles critical of Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. Paradza, a member of Parliament with the ruling ZANU-PF, said in March that Zimbabwe's media laws should be revised.

Moyo lashed out at two other independent weekly newspapers, The Standard and The Independent, calling them "running dogs of imperialism." The editors of both newspapers faced charges under restrictive press and security laws. CPJ sources said authorities targeted the two publications in the run-up to the March elections, noting that with the closing of The Daily News, the weeklies were the country's only remaining independent newspapers.

Still, government harassment has not silenced the papers' critical reporting. In October, for example, The Independent wrote that Zimbabwe was "hurtling towards fascist rule" with the introduction of "new despotic laws that analysts ... said were calculated to cripple civil society and the opposition."

Although AIPPA has been used to detain and harass dozens of journalists, none has yet been convicted under the law. In September, a Harare court acquitted four directors of the banned Daily News who had been charged with publishing the newspaper without a license. The court ruled that the state failed to prove even a basic case against the defendants.

2004 Documented Cases – Zimbabwe

JANUARY 14, 2004

Itai Dzamara, The Independent

The Independent

Dzamara, a reporter with the Harare-based independent weekly The Independent, and the paper's general manager, Raphael Khumalo, were arrested after presenting themselves to police at Harare Central Police Station. Both were summoned on January 13 to appear at the station for questioning the next morning.

The arrests followed the publication of a story in the January 9 edition of The Independent co-authored by Dzamara alleging that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had commandeered an Air Zimbabwe plane for his trip to East Asia, thereby stranding passengers who were slated to fly on the plane between Harare and London. The piece also quoted a source saying that the plane carried containers for storage of goods Mugabe might acquire on his trip.

Dzamara was charged with criminal defamation before being released the day of his arrest. Khumalo was released the same day without charge.

Dzamara will likely appear with three other Independent journalists in court on January 29. Police arrested Independent Managing Editor Iden Wetherell, News Editor Vincent Kahiya, and reporter Dumisani Muleya on Saturday, January 10, also in connection with the January 9 article.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo described the report as "blasphemous," saying it was a "deliberate falsehood calculated to bring the office of the president into disrepute," the BBC reported.

Muleya, who co-authored the piece with Dzamara, said that during interrogation by police, he was asked to reveal the story's sources but refused. The three journalists were charged with criminal defamation. On Monday, January 12, they were released on 20,000 Zimbabwean Dollars (US$25) bail each after appearing in court. Their next court hearing is scheduled for January 29.

Meanwhile, on January 13, the state-owned daily The Herald published an open letter from Media and Information Commission (MIC) head Tafataona Mahoso to Wetherell accusing The Independent of racism for publishing a letter to the editor claiming that Zimbabweans are stupid and comparing them to wild animals. Mahoso concluded the letter by writing, "All publishers and editors in Zimbabwe should consider this MIC statement as a warning to them as well and not just to the Zimbabwe Independent."

The Independent editor disputed the claim that the column's remarks were racist, saying the letter was a legitimate part of the national discourse on the country's political and economic crisis. Wetherell said he believes that the MIC could use the racism charge as a pretext to deny registration to the publication or accreditation to its journalists.

MARCH 19, 2004
Posted: April 9, 2004

Simon Bright, Zim Media

Bright, an independent filmmaker based in Zimbabwe, was arrested by police at Harare International Airport when he was about to board an Air Zimbabwe flight to London.

Police asked Bright, a British citizen with permanent residence in Zimbabwe, whether he worked for foreign media and if he had been involved in the production of a documentary for the BBC program "Panorama."

The Panorama program, titled "Secrets of the Camps," was broadcast on February 29 and reported on secret government-sanctioned camps that had been opened across Zimbabwe to train youths to torture and kill political opponents of the ruling regime. The government denied that the camps were used for torture training.

Bright denied any involvement in the production of the documentary.

Earlier in the day, police had raided Bright's offices, confiscating hundreds of videotapes. When arrested at the airport, he was carrying a tape to clients in London who had commissioned him to make a documentary about a game park in Zimbabwe. According to Bright's attorney, Beatrice Mtetwa, Bright was questioned about the tape and its contents even though it was made with the participation of the governments of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and South Africa.

Bright was released from custody on the afternoon of March 22. He was charged with communicating "a statement which is wholly or materially false" under the Public Order and Security Act. The offense carries a sentence of up to five years in prison, a hefty fine, or both.

It is unclear why Bright was charged, and Mtetwa said that because the journalist was not arraigned, it is unlikely that the case will be pursued.

MAY 3, 2004
Updated: July 22, 2004

The Tribune

The Zimbabwean government's Media and Information Commission (MIC) threatened to cancel the license of the independent weekly The Tribune.

Africa Tribune Newspapers (ATN), the company that publishes The Tribune, received a letter from the MIC saying that the paper would be shuttered for licensing violations. MIC chairman Dr. Tafataona Mahoso claimed in the letter that ATN had violated Section 67 of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which requires all media companies to notify the MIC of changes in ownership, name, form, and frequency of publications.

Ownership of The Tribune changed hands in March, when the newspaper's management bought out the former owners. Publication frequency also changed in January when ATN merged its two weekly publications into one.

In accordance with the law, Mahoso stated in the letter that ATN would be given seven days to show cause why the newspaper's license should not be suspended.

Local sources said that AIPPA is vague regarding how media companies are supposed to notify the MIC about the changes listed in Section 67. ATN acting general manager Nevanji Madanhire told CPJ that The Tribune published an editorial announcing the new ownership immediately after the change, and argued that this should have served as notification since the newspaper sends a copy of every edition to the MIC offices. He also said that the change in the newspaper's publication frequency was publicized in January in the newspaper.

According to journalists in the capital, Harare, in a May 5 press statement, Mahoso acknowledged that the MIC had erred in its previous statement and indicated that the ATN will remain registered. A week later, however, the MIC was still investigating The Tribune and asked that the newspaper's management forward them documentation of the changes. Tribune staff have since sent the MIC the documentation.

Journalists in Harare said they believe that the MIC action may be aimed at Tribune publisher Kindness Paradza. Paradza, a recently elected MP for the ruling ZANU-PF, criticized Zimbabwe's media laws in parliament in March, saying that their restrictive nature was hampering investment in the sector and that they should be revised.

Paradza was suspended from the Mashonaland West provincial chapter of ZANU-PF on April 27 based on charges of undermining party and government programs and policies by serving foreign and enemy interests, the state-owned Herald reported. The charges followed allegations that Paradza was seeking financial backing for The Tribune in Britain and had consulted with the owners of the defunct Daily News for assistance.

Under AIPPA, foreigners are prohibited from owning shares in Zimbabwean media companies unless their ownership predated the legislation.

Paradza denies both allegations and told CPJ that he had visited the U.K. recently to survey possibilities of distributing The Tribune to London's large Zimbabwean community, and that he has never met with the owners of the Daily News.

Sources in Zimbabwe said that the recent threats against The Tribune and its publisher have also come in reprisal for an article the paper ran in its April 23-29 edition. The article alleged that Information Minister Jonathan Moyo and other Cabinet ministers had ordered police to expropriate a lucrative farm for use by the Agricultural and Rural Development Agency, but that the ministers really intended to seize it for themselves.

According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Moyo called The Tribune story a lie in a May 1 statement.

According to sources in Harare, on June 10, MIC Chairman Tafataona Mahoso said in a press statement that The Tribune would be closed for one year. The statement claimed that African Tribune Newspapers (ATN), the company that publishes The Tribune, had violated Section 67 of AIPPA by failing to notify the commission of changes in ownership, name, and frequency of publication. The statement also alleged that the newspaper had employed an unaccredited journalist. Under the AIPPA, all journalists must be accredited by the MIC to work.

The newspaper's management said that the unaccredited journalist they allegedly employed was actually a consultant employed by The Tribune's previous owners.

Though The Tribune ran its June 11 edition, the management stopped publishing the paper the following week.

Paradza challenged the MIC's suspension of The Tribune's license in court, arguing that the MIC had shown bias and that the year suspension was disproportionate to the newspaper's alleged breaches of the law.

The Harare High Court denied The Tribune's appeal on July 21, saying the MIC had acted "within its discretion."

MAY 19, 2004
MAY 20, 2004

Bornwell Chakaodza, The Standard
Valentine Maponga, The Standard

Editor Chakaodza and reporter Maponga, both with the independent weekly The Standard, were charged with "publishing false statements prejudicial to the State" under Section 15 of the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

At least six police officers raided The Standard offices in the morning looking for Maponga, who was out on assignment, Assistant Editor David Madunda told CPJ. When Maponga returned in the early afternoon, he and Chakaodza were taken to a police station, where they were arrested and charged.

The arrests stemmed from an article Maponga wrote for the May 16 edition of the paper alleging that the family of a mining company executive who was recently murdered blamed senior government officials for plotting the man's assassination.

After signing "warned and cautioned" statements, the two journalists were released in the evening. Chakaodza said that police told the journalists that they would be detained again after police interrogated the family members of the killed mining executive who were the sources for the story.

If convicted under Section 15 of POSA, the journalists face up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.

On May 3, CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the "World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist." More than a dozen journalists have been charged under POSA and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act since the two acts were passed in 2002. Many journalists have multiple charges pending against them. Chakaodza said that he has been arrested and charged six times since the legislation went into effect.

No journalist has yet been convicted for charges under the two acts.

Chakaodza is a former editor at the state-owned Herald newspaper. He was fired in 2000 after criticizing the government for using the newspaper as a propaganda organ for the ruling party. He has been editor of The Standard since March 2002.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2004
Posted: September 27, 2004

Vincent Kahiya, Zimbabwe Independent
Augustine Mukaro, Zimbabwe Independent
Zimbabwe Independent

Zimbabwe Independent Editor Kahiya, reporter Mukaro, and General Manager Raphael Khumalo were arrested and taken to a police headquarters in the capital, Harare, where they were forced to sign "warned and cautioned" statements, defense lawyer Linda Cook told CPJ. She said they were charged under Section 80 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) with "publication of a statement that is injurious to the reputation, rights and freedoms of the State, recklessly or maliciously or incorrectly representing the statement as a true statement."

Cook said the charge was brought by Judge Paddington Garwe, presiding judge in the treason trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in connection with a July 30 article in the Zimbabwe Independent. The article said that the judgment in the Tsvangirai trial, which had been set for July 29, was postponed to give the two court assessors, who are supposed to be consulted on rulings, the opportunity to access the trial transcripts.

The charge sheet claims that the judgment, now set for October 15, was postponed for "other reasons." CPJ sources said the issue was sensitive because some newspapers outside Zimbabwe have alleged that the judge had prepared a guilty verdict without consulting the assessors.

The Zimbabwe Independent is one of the country's few remaining independent newspapers after the authorities closed the only independent daily, the Daily News, in September 2003. For the last four years, Zimbabwe's government has pursued a relentless crackdown on the private press through harassment, censorship, and restrictive legislation. In 2004, CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist.

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