Reporters Without Borders said today the Zimbabwean government’s attempt to ban British journalists from covering an international cricket match in Harare was "further proof" that Zimbabwe was "stuck in a dead-end" and that it "deserves its reputation as one of the worst violators of press freedom, in contradiction with its international commitments."
The government dropped its ban yesterday after a day-long standoff and foreign pressure and gave the journalists entry visas to report on the England-Zimbabwe match, set for today but now postponed. Those initially banned were from the BBC, The Times, Sunday Times, News of the World, Sun and Daily Mirror.
The incident is the latest of 50 or so arbitrary measures, some of them absurd, by President Robert Mugabe’s government so far this year in its efforts to clamp down on free expression. Other incidents include:
10 November: A jobless man, Reason Tafirei, was arrested in Harare and sentenced to eight months in prison or 140 hours of cleaning in a school for remarks supposedly undermining the president’s authority. He had told fellow bus passengers that Mugabe was a dictator while British prime minister Tony Blair was a liberator. An official of the ruling Zanu-PF party who heard him ordered the bus driver to go to the nearest police station, where Tafirei was arrested.
15 October: As opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai left court after being cleared of treason, Associated Press photographer Angus Shaw was arrested by a stranger and bundled into a jeep without number-plates. He was freed shortly afterwards without any formalities or explanation.
16 September: The government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) ordered editor Chakaodza Bornwell, of the daily paper The Standard, to hand over the negatives of pictures of Mugabe taken at the Harare Agricultural Show the previous month. The paper ran a photo on 29 August of the president hoisting up his trousers, with the caption "Smartening up". As the pictures were taken on a digital camera, there were no negatives, but the commission continued to threaten the paper with prosecution if it did not provide them.
10 January: Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and two of the paper’s reporters, Dumisani Muleya and Itai Dzamara, were arrested and held for several days on the orders of information minister Jonathan Moyo after the paper said Mugabe had requisitioned an Air Zimbabwe plane while he was on holiday in Asia. Moyo later admitted the report was true and thus not libellous but claimed that printing a true story about the president was "blasphemous."
Also in January, MIC chairman Tafataona Mohoso threatened The Independent with prosecution for running an editorial that simply called Zimbabweans "an unthinking lot."