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Zimbabwe24 June 2004

Government unveils bill to step up control of independent press

A bill to amend the March 2002 law on access to information and protection of privacy, announced by the Zimbabwean government on 18 June, will reinforce control over an already debilitated independent press, Reporters Without Borders protested today.

"What happened to the Daily News and, more recently, The Tribune clearly show that the access to information law is a tool used by President Robert Mugabe’s government to censor the privately-owned media and silence all dissenting voices," the organization said. "This new amendment will just give the courts additional powers to harass and punish."

Section 83 of the 2002 law bans journalists from working unless they previously obtain a renewable 12-month accreditation from the government’s Media and Information Commission (MIC). Under the proposed amendment, any breach of this section will be punishable by up to two years in prison.

"This will confirm Zimbabwe’s status as southern Africa’s worst violator of press freedom," Reporters Without Borders said, calling on the authorities to abandon a bill that will mean that "journalists can be imprisoned for just doing their job."

The unveiling of the bill comes on the heels of an MIC order on 10 June closing The Tribune for a year, in response to which The Tribune owner Kindness Paraza announced that he intended to continue to bring the newspaper out in defiance of the order.

Around 100 journalist have had their accreditation withdrawn in the past two years. Dissuading them from continuing to work without accreditation is clearly one of the aims of the new amendment. It is scheduled to be submitted within a few weeks to a parliament that consists mainly of members of the ruling Zanu PF party.

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