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Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition comments on the selective application of AIPPA
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition
January 21, 2004

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition is outraged at the manner in which the Zimbabwe government selectively applies the oppressive provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) against the independent media. Since its promulgation in 2001 AIPPA has been exclusively used against independent mass media organisations and journalists with over a hundred journalists, all from the private print mass media, having been arrested, detained and maliciously prosecuted.

Zimbabwe is the only country in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and one of a handful in the world that requires newspaper companies and journalists to register with a Commission, as a precondition to operating. This requirement, the Coalition has always maintained, not only violates freedom of expression as entrenched in section 20 of the Constitution, but also infringes Zimbabwe's international obligations as stated in the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and several other protocols and treaties to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

There have been numerous instances when reporters employed by the government-controlled Herald and the Sunday Mail have fallen foul of the provisions of AIPPA which prohibit the deliberate publication of false information. A case in point is the report by an unidentified Herald reporter contained in 'The Herald' of Thursday 22 January 2004. In the article the reporter falsely reported that the leader of the main opposition party, facing treason charges, had implicated the United States government in an alleged coup plot. After a complaint to Judge Garwe, presiding over the case, it was established, in court, as a matter of fact that the report was in effect false and inaccurate.

While the Coalition does not condone the publication of falsehoods, particularly those deliberately slanted for propaganda purposes, it is opposed to the use of criminal censure to remedy such media excesses. It is however corrupt for the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and for Jonathan Moyo, the Minister of Information and Publicity in the President's Office, to use the provisions of AIPPA against the private media and not against the government-controlled media, in instances where inaccurate information has been published by the mass media. The government's selective use of the criminal provisions to curb perceived media excesses violates, citizens freedom of expression as well as section 18 of the Constitution which guarantees every person, equality of treatment before the law.

Society expects absolute integrity in those that hold public office, as well as the respect for the law and the basic principle of equity. The fact that the MIC and Jonathan Moyo have relentlessly persecuted the ANZ and have since December 2003, unlawfully and in violation of five court orders prohibited the organisation from publishing the Daily News and Daily News on Sunday. Yet when newspapers such as the Herald violate AIPPA and other laws used against the Daily News, no action is taken. This impartiality openly displays a deliberate effort by the Minister to pursue a lost battle of emasculating the private press as he uses what he knows is an unconstitutional law to attack the private press and assault the people's right to information.

Section 3 of the Constitution states that it is the supreme law of the country and that all laws and actions that violate its provisions are to that extent void. The Coalition deplores the government's abhorrent behaviour and calls for the repeal of AIPPA and other media repressive laws. We also call upon all Zimbabweans to constructively engage the government on the manner in which freedom of information violating laws have been used.

In addition to AIPPA being blatantly unconstitutional, it further dents Zimbabwe's claim of being a democracy when these unconstitutional laws are applied selectively, enforced to the private press and ignored to the public press. This smacks of hypocrisy by the Minister who is supposed to be a minister of information and not the administer of the private press. Such acts are contemptuous of the Ministerial Oath of respecting and abiding by the Constitution of Zimbabwe. We demand the impartial application of all laws in Zimbabwe.

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