Reporters Without Borders welcomed the decision of a judge in Zimbabwe to drop charges against the management of the privately-owned radio Voice of the People (VOP).
The 25 September 2006 decision highlights how the government has been hounding one of the two last independent radios in the country, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
The judge hearing the case, William Bhila, president of the Harare court, decided to reject the prosecution’s third request for an adjournment. “This has become a circus”, he said before announcing charges would be dropped against the radio’s ten defendants.
VOP board members Arnold Tsunga, Millie Phiri, Isabella Matambanadzo, David Masunda, Nhlanhla Ngwenya, Lawrence Chibwe and John Masuku, had been arrested in January 2006 on the pretext that they “possessed and used transmission equipment without permission”. Radio staffers Maria Nyanyiwa, Takunda Chigwanda and Nyasha Bosha had been held for four days in December 2005 after police searched the radio studios in the centre of the capital. They were all released on bail.
The radio puts out short wave programmes in Shona and Ndebele, the country’s two main languages, between 7pm and 8pm, using the transmitter of the Dutch public radio, Radio Netherlands, in Madagascar. The radio had to abandon broadcasts from Zimbabwe after its offices in Milton Park, Harare were destroyed in a bomb attack on 29 August 2002, for which no-one has ever been brought to justice.
The radio resumed broadcasting soon afterwards from abroad. Between 18 September and 26 October 2005, Zimbabwean intelligence, with the help of Chinese technicians, jammed VOP programmes. The jamming only stopped when the radio changed its broadcast frequency.
23.12.2006 - Radio station director freed on bail
The director of the privately-owned Voice of the People radio station, John Masuku, who was arrested on 19 December, was freed today on bail of 4 million Zimbabwean dollars (40 euros) but will have to report to the police every week. He is due to appear before the Harare high court on 13 January on a charge of owning and using broadcast equipment without a licence from the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ).
19-12-2005 Station manager of Voice of the People arrested, his three journalists released
Three journalists on privately-owned Voice of the People radio, arrested on 15 December 2005, were released on 19 December, after being detained for more than three days at Harare central police station.
Maria Nyanyiwa, Takunda Gwanda and Nyasha Bosha were all released without charge.
Their lawyer, Jacob Mafume, said his clients were freed after police admitted that they were really looking for the radio’s proprietors. A few hours later, the station manager, John Masuku, was arrested. It was not yet known what charges he faced.
The three journalists had been arrested when police raided the station on 15 December. Saying that the station was not permitted to broadcast without a licence from the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ), police seized the station’s computers and arrested the three journalists present at the time.
16-12-2005 Police raid the Voice of the People radio station, arresting three of its journalists
Reporters Without Borders said today it was appalled by a police raid on the privately-owned radio station Voice of the People (VOP) in Harare yesterday in which equipment was seized and three of its journalists were arrested.
“Robert Mugabe’s government is cracking down harder on dissenting news media and, in the face of an economic and political crisis, is behaving in an increasingly despotic manner,” the press freedom organisation said.
“After managing to resolve an impasse in the food insecurity situation, the United Nations should take the issue of civil and political liberties seriously and, right now, should at the very least insist on VOP being allowed to resume broadcasting freely and should demand the immediate release of its three journalists,” Reporters Without Borders added.
Armed state security agents raided the VOP office in Beverley Court Building in Harare at around 6 p.m. yesterday saying they were looking for broadcasting equipment and claiming that VOP, which has been legally registered as a Communication Trust since its creation in 2000, was not allowed to broadcast without a licence from the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ).
Failing to find any broadcasting equipment, the police confiscated the radio station’s computers and arrested the three journalists present, Maria Nyanyiwa, Takunda Gwanda and Nyasha Bosha, who were taken to the Harare central police station. It is not know what they were charged with.
VOP’s programmes in shona and ndebele, Zimbabwe’s two main languages, are broadcast on the short wave from 7 to 8 p.m. from a transmitter in Madagascar operated by the Dutch public radio station, Radio Netherlands. VOP had to stop broadcasting from Zimbabwe after its studio in Milton Park in Harare were destroyed in an August 2002 explosion that was never solved by the police.
With the help of Chinese technicians, the Zimbabwean intelligence services jammed VOP’s broadcasts from 18 to 26 October of this year. The jamming stopped after VOP switched to a different frequency.
The raid on VOP comes soon after the government drew up a list of leading government critics, including politicians, human rights activists, lawyers and journalists, who are banned from leaving or entering Zimbabwe. Customs officials have been ordered to seize their passports.
Press proprietor Trevor Ncube, for example, had his passport seized on arrival at Bulawayo airport in the south of the country on 9 November. A resident in South Africa, Ncube immediately filed a complaint before the Harare high court, which ruled in his favour yesterday, saying the “invalidation or withdrawal or cancellation of the applicant’s passport is unlawful, null, void and of no force and effect.”