Reporters Without Borders today condemned a threat by the Zimbabwean government’s Media and Information Commission (MIC) to suspend or close a new independent newspaper, the Weekly Times, just a few days after its first issue on account of its alleged violation of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and its overly "political" news coverage.
"The MIC and information minister Jonathan Moyo continue to crack down on Zimbabwe’s independent media with full impunity in the runup to legislative elections in March," the press freedom organisation said.
"The fact that the Weekly Times was founded with little apparent trouble might have led one to assume the Zimbabwean government was going to change its behaviour toward the independent press, but these closure threats barely a week after the first issue show that it is as determined as ever to repress freedoms," Reporters Without Borders added.
Just days after its first issue appeared on 2 January, the Weekly Times received an official communique from MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso accusing its management of deceiving the commission as to its "true intentions."
He said the Weekly Times had betrayed a "sectarian" bias, especially in its treatment of President Robert Mugabe, and threatened to either suspend or close the newspaper altogether for failing to respect the terms under which it was allowed to appear. The Weekly Times obtained authorisation to publish last September.
Four days before the MIC’s letter arrived, chief executive officer Godfrey Ncube and editor Gibbs Dube were interrogated by police for several hours about the newspaper’s operations.
The first issue included an interview with Bulawayo bishop Pius Ncube condemning Mugabe’s failure to repent for the massacres of 20,000 civilians in Gukurahundi in the 1980s. It also referred to a secret meeting organised by Moyo at the end of last year, called the "Tsholotsho Declaration," that was reportedly aimed at preventing Joyce Mujuru from being appointed vice-president of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
In his weekly column in The Herald newspaper on 8 January, Moyo warned that he would like to examine the alleged links between the Weekly Times and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).