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African Commission defers hearing challenge on media law
November 28, 2006

HARARE – The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) has deferred to the next session an appeal filed by Zimbabwean civic groups challenging the country’s tough media law.

The civic groups which include the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) want the African Commission to put pressure on Harare to repeal Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which they say violates the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The meeting which is being held in Banjul, The Gambia ends on Wednesday.

The deferment comes after the Zimbabwe government through its director of policy and legal research in the Ministry of Justice, Margaret Chiduku, asked for more time to allow for consultations between itself and the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) which has presented to the government a new draft media law.

Chiduku said the postponement will allow discussions over the matter to proceed in a much more harmonious manner. The government says it will consider the proposals by MISA as the basis for discussion with the civic groups.

"We have submitted it to our Attorney General who is in charge of drafting legislation. We have compared it with existing legislation. The third complainant (MISA-Zimbabwe) has also submitted the model to Parliament," said Chiduku.

MISA-Zimbabwe legal officer, Wilbert Mandinde, confirmed to the Commission that they had submitted model legislation to the government but expressed fears that the deferment could be a tactic by Harare to buy more time on the matter.

Mandinde said should Harare fail to deal with the matter between now and the next session, the Commission should proceed to deal with the matter during its 41st session next year.

Chiduku also told the commissioners that the government had consented to the setting up of a self-regulatory body, the Media Council of Zimbabwe, in December.

Zimbabwe has some of the harshest media laws in the world. For example, journalists are liable to a two-year jail term if they are caught practising without a licence from the government’s Media and Information Commission (MIC).

Newspapers are also required to register with the MIC with those failing to do so facing closure and seizure of their equipment by the police.

At least four independent newspapers including the biggest circulating daily, The Daily News, have been shut down over the past three years. - ZimOnline

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