Zimbabwe continued to be by far the worst violator of press freedom in southern Africa in 2003. The authorities closed the only independent daily and forced foreign journalists to leave the country.

President Robert Mugabe's government won. The Daily News, the only independent daily, was closed down after losing its battle against a draconian press law it considered unconstitutional. Although it lodged various legal appeals and had the support of some judges, the president achieved his aim of reducing its irritating voice to silence. The few remaining independent weeklies fell far short of having the same impact.

The media commission established by the government in 2002 was able to lord it over Zimbabwe's few news media because it was responsible for issuing the accreditations which they now all needed in order to operate legally.

Foreign journalists left the country. Those who were not expelled left anyway, despairing of the obstacles put up by the authorities to prevent them doing their job. The international press continued to operate inside the country with the help of Zimbabwean journalists.

The state news media continued to produce propaganda for President Mugabe and his government, often adding fuel to the fire and never hesitating to attack the opposition press and accuse it of being the tool of "foreign forces." Any hint of independence within the state media was quickly crushed. Even wage claims were not tolerated. The state radio and TV broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, suspended 135 employees in January for taking part in an illegal strike and demanding a salary increase.

Even President Thabo Mbeki of neighbouring South Africa, who is rarely critical of the Mugabe regime, called for an improvement in press freedom in February. Information minister Jonathan Moyo, refused to comment on Mbeki's statement, but announced some softening of the press law.

Zimbabwe was not invited to the Commonwealth summit in Nigeria at the end of 2003. Deeming the snub "unacceptable," President Mugabe announced Zimbabwe's withdrawal from the Commonwealth on 8 December. It had been suspended after he was returned to power in a controversial election in March 2002.

Three journalists imprisoned

Norna Edwards, the editor of The Mirror, a regional weekly based in the southeastern town of Masvingo, was arrested on 3 January 2003 under the press law for "publishing falsehoods" in a report about the arrest of four government opponents and their ill-treatment at the hands of the police. She was taken before a judge three days later and was released on bail. The reporter who wrote the story, Kennedy Murwira, gave himself up to the police and was released after being interrogated for two hours.

Fanuel Jongwe of the Daily News was arrested by police on the evening of 24 January in Zvishavane (400 km south of Harare) together with five members of the Lutheran World Federation who had come to Zimbabwe to prepare reports on the federation's development programmes for its magazine. Jongwe was accompanying them on their tour of the country. The police accused all six of "clandestine activities" and of working illegally as journalists in Zimbabwe. Their equipment was confiscated, they were put under house arrest in a hotel and told not to leave, and they had to go to the Zvishavane police station several times for interrogation. On 28 January, Jongwe was taken before a judge and was charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) with being an accomplice to the five foreigners and working without accreditation (as his licence had expired). The charges against him and the foreigners were eventually dropped the same day.

Freelance journalist Stanley Karombo was arrested by police on 19 March in Mutare (southeast of Harare) under section 83 of the AIPPA, which bans journalists from working without official accreditation. The police confiscated his mobile telephone and tape-recorder in a search of his home and allegedly beat him while he was in detention. He was freed five days later after paying bail of 5,000 Zimbabwean dollars (6 euros).

27 journalists detained

Police detained two American journalists, Dina Kraft of the Associated Press and Jason Beaubien, Africa correspondent of National Public Radio, and a Zimbabwean freelance photographer, Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, in the southern town of Bulawayo on 28 January 2003. The Americans, who were accompanying a World Food Programme team, were accused of illegally entering a public grain depot where food distribution had recently set off rioting. They were also accused of photographing a security zone. The journalists said the depot's security guards had given them permission to enter. Charles Mpofu, a Bulawayo municipal councillor and opposition member who was acting as their guide, was also detained. The three journalists were not allowed to contact lawyers or the US embassy while they were held. They were released after seven hours.

The trial of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and two of his deputies, began in the Harare high court on 3 February. They were accused of treason, a charge which could carry the death penalty. Most of the journalists present were barred from the courtroom and two – freelance reporter Ish Mafundikwa and Pedzisai Ruhanya of the Daily News – were detained by police when they objected to being excluded. They were released the next day without being charged. The authorities also denied entry to diplomats, opposition members and independent observers, claiming there was no room in the courtroom. But lawyers who were allowed in said there were unoccupied seats.

The Harare police arrested photographer Tsvangirai Mukwazhi and cameraman Peter Maringinsanwa on 7 February during an opposition demonstration against the rapprochement between Nigeria and Zimbabwe. They were released five hours later.

Six journalists were detained by police in Harare on 14 February while covering a women's demonstration against violence that was billed as a "march for love." The police confiscated the AFP reporter's camera. All the journalists were released a few hours later.

Daily News photographer Philimon Bulawayo was detained while covering a demonstration in Harare on 18 March. The newspaper's lawyer, Gugulethu Moyo, was then also detained when she went to the Glen View police station in Harare a few hours later to demand his release. She was beaten by the army commander's wife, Jocelyn Chiwenga, and other persons present at the police station. She and Bulawayo were finally released without being charged on 20 March on the orders of the high court, which said their arrest was illegal. They were taken to a Harare clinic for treatment to injuries resulting from the mistreatment they underwent while detained.

Shorai Katiwa and Martin Chimenya of the underground radio station Voice of the People (VOP) were detained on 2 June by former combatants and young supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, who interrogated them, accused them of belonging to the opposition, seized their mobile telephones and tape-recorders and beat them. They were then taken to a police station in Harare where they confessed under interrogation to sending reports abroad by means of a computer in the home of VOP coordinator John Masuku. Police searched Masuku's home, taking the computer and some of the radio station's administrative files. After finding nothing suspicious, the police released the journalists and returned everything that had been confiscated.

Daily News editor in chief Nqobile Nyathi and the newspaper's distribution manager, Simon Ngena, were detained and taken to a police station at around 9 p.m. on 12 September, a day after the supreme court had declared that the newspaper was operating illegally. They were released shortly before midnight.

Freelance photographers Tsvangirai Mukwazhi and Paul Cadenhead were detained on 16 September outside the offices of the Daily News as they were taking pictures of police confiscating computers and other equipment from the newspaper. They were held for seven hours at the Harare central police station and charged with obstructing police work before being released on bail in the evening.

Tsvangirai Mukwazhi was again detained the next day along with Aaron Umfumeli of the Daily News and a third photographer while covering a demonstration in support of calls for a constitutional amendment during which about 100 people were arrested.

Blessing Zulu, a reporter with the Zimbabwe Independent, was detained on 22 October while covering a demonstration staged by the National Constitutional Assembly, a civil society group opposed to the government. He was freed after a night in custody. Three photographers, including two working for the Herald, Simon Sithole and Takunda Mawodza, were also detained for a few hours.

Martin Chimenya of the privately-owned radio station Voice of the People was arrested in the southern town of Masvingo on 8 December for working without accreditation from the government's Media and Information Commission (MIC). His equipment was also confiscated. He was freed on bail two days later. Voice of the People broadcasts from Europe because privately-owned radio stations are not allowed in Zimbabwe.

Six journalists physically attacked

Daily News photographer Philimon Bulawayo was set upon by soldiers on 20 February 2003 while taking pictures of the long lines outside supermarkets. They took him to the Harare central police station where his camera was confiscated, he was beaten by police and he was ordered not to do any more reporting on food shortages.

Daily News journalists Luke Tamborinyoka and Precious Shumba were stopped by uniformed police on the night of 3 June and forced to crawl on a hard surface.

Youths suspected of belonging to ZANU-PF attacked reporter Flata Kavinga of the provincial weekly The Midlands Observer on 9 August, hitting him with sticks and iron bars and accusing him of working for an opposition newspaper. He had to spend two days in hospital for treatment to the various injuries he received. Despite angry protestations by the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists (ZUJ), no one was punished. Kavinga subsequently went into hiding for fear of further violence.

Cyril Zenda of the Financial Gazette was attacked as he got off a bus on 3 October by suspected members of the ruling party, who took objection to the legend on his T-shirt: "Free my voice, free the airwaves."

Shadeck Pongo, a photographer with the Standard, was injured by police and his camera was smashed while he was covering a demonstration by the opposition Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in Harare on 18 November. Andrew Moyse, the head of a media watchdog, was briefly detained during the same demonstration.

Harassment and obstruction

More than 500 copies of the Daily News were confiscated and destroyed by ZANU-PF youths in the central town of Gweru on 14 January 2003. Several thousand copies of the Daily News were torn up and burned in the course of several days in the country's main cities in early June amid claims by ZANU-PF veterans that it supported the opposition.

The Daily News was declared illegal on 30 January under a law stipulating that each news media must be registered with the government – a law which the newspaper had deliberately ignored on the grounds that it violated press freedom. For the time being, the newspaper nonetheless continued to appear every day.

Police began looking for South African journalist Paul Olivier in the southeastern Masvingo region on 10 February as he was suspected of entering Zimbabwe without permission and without press accreditation. Olivier was investigating the increase in poaching in the Gonarezhou National Park and its impact on a cross-border project involving Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Simon Briggs, a sports reporter for the London-based Daily Telegraph, was barred from covering a cricket match between Zimbabwe and India on 19 February. He was stopped at Harare airport although he had accreditation. The Daily Telegraph said a gunmen also aimed a revolver at Martin Johnson, another sports journalist, as he was going to the information ministry to extend his visa.

Charges of reporting "falsehoods" and "abuse of journalistic privileges" pending for 11 months against Daily News reporter Lloyd Mudiwa were finally ruled illegal and dismissed by Harare court judge Sandra Nhau on 24 March. A different judge had issued a warrant on 23 April 2002 for the arrest of Mudiwa and the newspaper's former managing editor, Geoffrey Nyarota, under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) because of a report in which they wrongly claimed that young ZANU-PF activists beheaded a woman in front of her daughters in Magunje. The victim's husband, Enos Tadyanemhandu, had deliberately misled the newspaper, which had issued a retraction a few days later.

The chairman of the government's Media and Information Commission (MIC), Tafataona Mahoso, demanded that the Daily News' journalists return their press accreditation cards on 7 May. He said they were breaking the AIPPA because they were accredited for a different newspaper from the one for which they were really working, the Daily News, which was not registered. The lawyer acting for the journalists said Mahoso was misinterpreting the AIPPA.

Andrew Meldrum, an American reporter who was the correspondent of the London-based daily The Guardian, was expelled on 16 May. After being declared an illegal immigrant, he was put on an Air Zimbabwe flight to London late in the evening by airport officials who refused to heed a high court ruling obtained by his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, forbidding his immediate expulsion. His wife, Dolores Maria Cortes Meldrum, had to flee the country on 11 June after the immigration office rescinded her residence permit and declared her persona non grata.

Eight police officers raided the Harare home of film producer and journalist Edwina Spicer on 6 June, manhandling three of her production company's employees and taking video cameras, recording equipment, a fax machine and 50,000 Zimbabwean dollars (about 60 euros). The police raided her home again three days later, this time with a warrant, confiscating new video cameras, cassettes and a computer. The police claimed they were searching for subversive material.

The camera of Star journalist Tafireyi Shereni was confiscated on 9 June while he was attending the trial of a member of his family in the court of Chinhoyi, northwest of Harare. Claiming he had taking photos of convicted detainees, court guards forcibly escorted him to Chinhoyi prison where he had to hand over his equipment before being released.

The supreme court ruled on 11 September that the Daily News was illegal because it was not registered with the Media and Information Commission (MIC) as required by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The court ordered the Daily News and its sister edition, the Daily News on Sunday, to register at once. The company that publishes them, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), had refused to do this because it considered the AIPPA to be illegal. Acting on the court's ruling, the police closed down the Daily News on 12 September and sealed off the newspaper's offices. On 16 and 17 September, police with no warrant confiscated dozens of computers belonging to ANZ. At the same time, about 50 of the newspaper's journalists were charged with practising their profession illegally.

On 24 October, the supreme court ordered the MIC to issue the Daily News with a licence by 30 November. The newspaper came out again the next day, but the police invaded the ANZ's premises a few hours later, briefly detained some 20 journalists and technicians, and barred access to its buildings. Washington Sansole, one of the newspaper's nine directors, was arrested in Bulawayo on 26 October. The police announced that they would hold him until the other directors gave themselves up. Four of the other directors turned themselves into the police the next day and spent the night in custody. Sansole was released. They were all charged with illegal publishing and obstructing justice.

The president of the Bulawayo administrative court, Selo Nare, authorised the Daily News to resume publishing on 19 December. Immediately after the ruling's announcement, ANZ chairman Strive Masiyiwa said the group's printing press was already turning and that an edition of the newspaper would be on the streets of Harare that day. However, the police raided and closed the ANZ printing works the same day. According to the government, the court's decision was "without force or practical effect." The Daily News had still not reappeared at the end of the year.

The police opened an investigation into the Zimbabwean section of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA), a regional press freedom organisation, at the end of September, accusing it of not being registered with the Media and Information Commission. Information minister Jonathan Moyo had previously threatened the MISA on 20 August, claiming that it had fueled a misunderstanding between the government and the privately-owned news media and that it had tried to discredit the Zimbabwean authorities. The MISA took the position that it was not required to register because the law only applied to news organisations.


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