Reporters Without Borders today condemned a police raid this week on a Harare office of the London-based newspaper The Zimbabwean, as well as Media and Information Commission chairman Tafataona Mahoso’s harassment of Zimbabwe’s main journalists’ union and two press freedom organisations.
“The desire to control news and information has been a constant obsession of President Robert Mugabe’s government,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Once again insults, police raids and the Media and Information Commission (MIC) are being used as weapons against journalists who irritate a regime that cannot stand to hear anything but praise.”
The press freedom organisation added: “The staff of The Zimbabwean have complied with all the required formalities and should be left in peace. We also call on the Zimbabwean police and judicial authorities not to let themselves become accomplices to Mahoso’s aggressive campaign against organisations that defend the right of journalists to work freely in Zimbabwe.”
Four plain-clothes police this week raided one of The Zimbabwean’s distribution points in Harare and took away a copy of its import authorisation as well as old copies of the newspaper from last week. The Zimbabwean editor Wilf Mbanga condemned these “bullyboy tactics,” explaining that his newspaper ran a story last week in which military sources criticised corruption within the Zimbabwean police.
One of Zimbabwe’s last surviving independent dailies, The Zimbabwean has its editorial office in London and is printed in South Africa. This means that, unlike privately-owned newspapers produced in Zimbabwe, it is not subject to the draconian provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
Meanwhile, MIC chairman Mahoso on 1 October called on the information ministry to investigate the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists (ZUJ), which he accused of being part of the “anti-Zimbabwe lobby.” He said he had documents that showed the ZUJ has requested funding form the Dutch embassy and UNESCO.
Known for being an unswerving Mugabe loyalist, Mahoso also said he had asked the police to investigate allegations that Nunurai Jena, the ZUJ’s provincial secretary in Mashonaland West province, had been freelancing for the US public radio station Voice of America without the MIC’s permission.
At the same time, accusations and threats have mounted against press freedom organisations. On 28 September, the MIC accused the Zimbabwean branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) of supporting “regime change.”
The next day, the governmental daily The Herald reported accusations by Mahoso against the ZUJ, MISA-Zimbabwe and the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ), which together make up the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ). Mahoso was quoted as accusing them of “convening clandestine meetings under the guise of media law reform.”
Mahoso’s charge came on the eve of a conference organised by the MAZ to push for the repeal of the repressive media laws in effect since 2002.