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Harare says won't repeal tough media, security laws
Thabani Mlilo, ZimOnline
April 23, 2007

HARARE – The Zimbabwe government will not repeal tough media and security laws it has used over the past four years to shut down several newspapers and arrest scores of journalists, new Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said.

Addressing journalists at the Quill national Press club in Harare, Ndlovu said the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) would not be changed because they were necessary to control "irresponsible journalists" who wrote lies about the country.

"We cannot change AIPPA and POSA. These are laws that were enacted by Parliament," said Ndlovu, appointed to the information ministry two months ago and until now seen as moderate and friendly to the media.

The AIPPA is regarded as one of the harshest media laws in the world. Under the law enacted five years ago, journalists are required to obtain licences from the government’s Media and Information Commission in order to practice in Zimbabwe.

The commission can withdraw licences from journalists it may deem to be not toeing the line. Journalists caught practising without a licence are reliable to a two-year jail term under AIPPA.

Besides journalists being required to obtain licences, newspaper companies are also required to register with the state commission with those failing to do so facing closure and seizure of their equipment by the police.

Under POSA, journalists face up to two years in jail for publishing falsehoods that may cause public alarm and despondency, while another law, the Criminal Codification Act, imposes up to 20 years in jail on journalists convicted of denigrating President Robert Mugabe in their articles.

At least four independent newspapers including the country’s biggest circulating daily, The Daily News, were shut down over the past four years for breaching the government’s media laws. Close to 100 journalists were also arrested by the police over the same period.

But in the most gruesome case of brutality against journalists to date, Edward Chikomba, a former cameraman for the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) who was now a freelancer for foreign media, was late last month abducted by suspected state security agents and found murdered several days later.

Chikomba’s colleagues in the media believe he was murdered by state agents who accused him of supplying foreign media with footage of a bruised opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai following his torture in police custody. The footage sparked international condemnation of Mugabe and his government.

Another journalist Gift Phiri, who works for the United Kingdom-based, The Zimbabwean weekly newspaper, was earlier this month also abducted by the police who allegedly severely assaulted and tortured him.

Quizzed by journalists at the Quill, Ndlovu professed ignorance of the abduction of journalists although he said in some cases police arrest journalists for writing "blatant lies".

He said: "I am not aware of such acts (abductions of journalists). I do not have any report from the police or the responsible ministry that there has been any abduction. What you call abductions may be arrests of some journalists for writing blatant lies."

Ndlovu said the Daily News – which was shut down for failing to register with the state media commission – could still be allowed to reopen if it complied with requirements. He did not say what these requirements are.

"As far as I am concerned, The Daily News failed to comply with the law (AIPPA) and when asked to do so it failed to satisfy the responsible commission . . . if it complies with requirements, it would be allowed back," said Ndlovu.

The Daily News, which was closed down in 2003, has since then filed several applications to be registered, which the media commission has however turned down, forcing the paper to appeal to the courts. The matter is pending. – ZimOnline

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