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Zimbabwe1 February 2002

RSF is extremely preoccupied by the new restrictive press law adopted by Parliament
OPEN LETTER TO PRESIDENT MUGABE

In a letter addressed to President Robert Mugabe, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) expressed its serious preoccupation with the adoption by Parliament of a new law on the press and privacy. "We ask that you not promulgate this law, and that you publicly express your commitment to press freedom in your country," said Robert Ménard, general secretary of RSF.

"For almost two years, press freedom in Zimbabwe has deteriorated. In 2001, more than twenty journalists were arrested and the fear is real that this new law lead to an increase in arrests in 2002," said Robert Ménard. "If this law takes effect, you will have put the finishing touches on any chances the Zimbabwean people might have to enjoy a free, independent press during this crucial period of presidential elections." The law may be slightly less strict than the first version, but its interpretation allows the government a great deal of latitude in enforcing it, which leads us to fear the worst. Foreign journalists will no longer be able to practice their profession, and this would be unique in Africa. On 14 January, a Malagasy journalist went to Zimbabwe on vacation and was turned back at the Harare airport after presenting his passport, which specified that she was a journalist.

If this law is promulgated, Reporters without Borders calls on the international community and, especially, the European Union to adopt a very firm attitude not against the population of Zimbabwe but against its leaders.

According to the press and privacy law passed by Parliament on 31 January 2002, all journalists will have a one-year, renewable accreditation that will be granted by a commission. Those in violation of this law can be sentenced to up to two years in jail and a fine of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (approximately 2,000 euros). In addition, only Zimbabwean citizens or permanent residents of the country will be eligible for this accreditation. Foreign journalists will be allowed to work in the country for a "limited time", only after they have been approved by Zimbabwean embassies in their home countries.

Foreign companies will only be allowed minority investments in Zimbabwean media companies. This law also makes it illegal to publish the deliberations of the Council of Ministers and other governmental departments.

In 2001, Zimbabwe became one of the most repressive countries in the African continent concerning press freedom. Twenty local journalists were arrested and three foreign correspondents were expelled from the country. President Robert Mugabe is listed by RSF as one of the thirty-seven (37) "predators" of press freedom in the world.



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