Reporters Without Borders has made a strong plea to South African President Thabo Mbeki to act to halt the "daily hounding" suffered by Zimbabwe’s journalists.
Every week it recorded fresh attacks against the independent press, the organisation said, without much concern being registered by one of the last democracies still talking to President Robert Mugabe.
It was appealing to the South African president to understand that Zimbabwean journalists were showing an "example of democratic spirit by struggling peacefully" while enduring a "daily hounding on the part of an authoritarian and abusive government".
All journalists on the now closed Daily News face prison terms while the Media and Information Commission (MIC) has passed the deadline it was given to study the newspaper’s application for a licence.
"The inaction of African democracies in the face of the appalling plight of the independent press in Zimbabwe is a deplorable example for the whole continent," Reporters Without Borders added. "Thabo Mbeki, so able at winning compromises and smoothing conflicts, however does nothing to improve the lot of the free spirits on the borders of his country, even though, backed by the African Union, he would have the power to do so."
"Crackdowns against the Zimbabwean press that have become so commonplace and therefore forgotten by international public opinion, should nevertheless be stopped", said the organisation.
"To achieve this objective, it is essential that the international community uses all its political and media resources, to show Zimbabwean journalists that the hell they endure is not to be tolerated."
The 45 journalists on the Daily News and its weekly supplement The Daily News on Sunday have been summoned to appear on 12 October 2005, before a Harare court, to answer a charge of violating the information law by working without official accreditation between January and September 2003, the date on which the newspaper was banned.
The trial has been put down for all the defendants to be heard together. Under the draconian press law, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), journalists should be registered by the MIC that regulates media who are tightly controlled by the government. Since the end of 2004, offenders against the law have faced a two-year prison sentence.
Twenty-one journalists who received an individual summons at their homes appeared before a court in Harare on 14 June. A further 23 are yet to receive their summons, since police have not managed to find all of them. The journalist Kelvin Jakachira was summoned on 4 August on the same charges.
At the same time, the MIC has still not given its decision on an application for a licence lodged by the publishers of the Daily News, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ). However, the interminable judicial struggle between the independent Daily News and the Zimbabwe reached a conclusion on 14 March when the Supreme Court revoked the ban slapped on by the MIC in September 2003.
The MIC was then told once again to reach a decision on the licence application from the ANZ within a 60-day period, expiring on 15 May. However the MIC waited until 16 and 17 June to officially study the application, along with that of the weekly The Tribune, that was banned for one year in June 2004. After two days of discussion, the MIC’s chairman, Tafataona Mahoso, declined to comment, saying that the journalists concerned would be notified by the commission when "they had made their decision" without specifying whom he was referring to.
After the Daily News and its Sunday edition were banned in September 2003, a judicial battle was joined pitting the ANZ and the MIC which went from court to court until it reached the Supreme Court in February 2004, which waited one year before ruling. Under huge financial difficulties and so as not to expose its journalists to arrest, the Daily News management decided to stop publishing while awaiting the verdict of the country’s highest legal jurisdiction.