Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières - RSF), an international organisation that defends press freedom, has addressed letters to the eight members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to draw their attention to the situation in Zimbabwe on the eve of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Coolum, Australia, from 2 to 5 March 2002.
RSF asked the eight ministers of Foreign affairs of the CMAG (Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Canada, Malaysia, Nigeria and United-Kingdom) to call for the expulsion of Zimbabwe at the forthcoming Heads of Government Meeting. The organisation noted that Zimbabwe is presently one of the countries in Africa with the harshest attitude to press freedom. About 30 journalists have been arrested since January last year, others have been threatened or attacked and several foreign journalists have been expelled from the country. Many foreign correspondents have not managed to get visas to cover the March 9-10 presidential election. President Robert Mugabe is on a world-wide list of 39 "predators of press freedom" that Reporters Without Borders has drawn up.
The Zimbabwean authorities are attacking both local and foreign journalists with impunity. Arrests and threats are continual and the independent press is having more and more difficulty informing the public. Zimbabwe no longer respects the ideals of democracy and the rule of law on which the Commonwealth was founded. The 1995 Millbrook Declaration provides for sanctions against member-states who persistently violate human rights.
Under a new law on access to information and protection of privacy passed on 31 January this year by the Zimbabwean parliament, all journalists now have to have official accreditation that must be renewed each year by a government commission. Those who do not comply risk up to two years in prison and a fine of 100,000 Zimbabwe dollars (about € 2,000). Foreign journalists will be allowed to work in the country only for a limited time and only after they have been approved by the Zimbabwean embassy in their own country.
The president and his ministers are multiplying explosive statements against the independent media. The Daily News, the country’s only privately-owned daily paper, is being repeatedly harassed by the authorities. Its editor-in-chief has been arrested several times in recent years. The government and the ruling ZANU-PF party have taken many legal proceedings against the paper and sought large sums in damages in an effort to financially cripple it. Early this month, the paper’s offices in Bulawayo were attacked.