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Zimbabwe27 October 2008

Government spied on email of state-owned newspaper editors in August

23.12 - Last news about Bhekinkosi Ncube:

Reporters Without Borders condemns the government’s decision to spy on the email of editors employed by the state-owned Zimpapers group from 3 to 15 August in order to gauge their loyal to President Robert Mugabe.

“As a result of this illegal decision, editor Bhekinkosi Ncube of the magazine Umthunywa has been suspended for nearly two months and could lose his job altogether,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He is alleged to have insulted President Mugabe in an email sent from his private email address. The accusation is baseless and proves only that his personal email was monitored. We call for his reinstatement, the destruction of all the gathered data and an investigation into the government’s violation of the Interception of Communications Act.”

Ncube was suspended in August for publishing a photo of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change with the caption “Walile u Tsvangirai” (Tsvangirai refuses to sign). At the time, negotiations were under way between the MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF for power sharing after ZANU-PF’s defeat in the March general elections.

During a hearing on the case on 7 October in Harare, Zimpapers CEO Justin Mutasa revealed that he had placed all of his editors under electronic surveillance to establish whether they supported ZANU-PF. He authorised the use of password-cracking software to hack into their private email accounts.

In an attempt to evade responsibility, Mutasa told the hearing that it was the information minister, not himself, who determined editorial policy for the Zimpapers group. The minutes of the hearing quote him as saying: “Every incoming minister calls all the editors and expounds to them what he expects from them. Editors must comply.”

The Zimbabwean Broadcast Corporation’s CEO, Henry Muradzikwa, and seven of its journalists were fired in May for not supporting Mugabe and ZANU-PF sufficiently during the election campaign.

Zimpapers is 51 per cent owned by the Mass Media Trust, which was set up by the government in 1980. The country’s biggest print media group, it consists of six newspapers. One of them, The Herald, has a circulation of 45,000 and is Zimbabwe’s most widely-read daily.

Adopted in August 2007, the Interception of Communication Act allows the government to tap phone calls and monitor email and fax communications in order to “guarantee national security” but does not authorise hacking into private email correspondence without a warrant.

Zimbabwe was ranked 151st out of 173 countries in the 2008 press freedom index which Reporters Without Borders released last week. Journalism continues to be a dangerous and frustrating profession in Zimbabwe and journalists are constantly harassed by the police and courts.

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