Reporters Without Borders today protested against the Zimbabwean information minister’s refusal to renew the work permit of the Agence France-Presse bureau chief in Harare, Stéphane Barbier, and the government’s evident desire to prevent foreign journalists working in Zimbabwe.
"This decision clearly shows that the Zimbabwean government’s goal is to make all foreign journalists leave the country," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to Information Minister Jonathan Moyo. The organisation called on him to stop harassing foreign journalists and give them accreditation they need to work freely and safely.
The information minister refused to renew Barbier’s work permit yesterday without giving any explanation. However, he had already let AFP know this summer that no foreign journalist would henceforth be allowed to reside and work in Zimbabwe under the new law on access to information and protection of private life, promulgated by President Robert Mugabe on 15 March. From now on, foreign journalists will only be allowed to visit Zimbabwe provisionally, for limited periods, and after having received the minister’s approval.
Barbier, a French citizen, took over as head of the Harare bureau in June 2001. He was originally given a one-year work permit that was renewed for six months in June 2002. He must now leave Zimbabwe by the end of the month. In September, the information minister refused to renew the work permit of Griffin Shea, an American journalist who had been working for AFP in Harare for the past two years. Shea had to leave Zimbabwe on 14 September.
The access to information law gives the minister the power to decide who can work as a journalist in Zimbabwe. Since its promulgation, harassment of the foreign press has increased. Many journalists already found their requests for accreditation being turned down at the beginning of the year, when they were hoping to cover the presidential elections in early March.