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Zimbabwe: One step forward, three steps back for freedom of information
June 21, 2014A decision by the Constitutional Court in favour of freedom of information should not overshadow the fact that three Zimbabwean news organizations have been raided by the police in the past few days. Reporters Without Borders wonders just how far the violence will go.
There was a partial victory for freedom of information on 12 June when the Constitutional court ruled that criminal proceedings for defamation violated the new constitution approved last year. The ruling meant the cases against Stanley Gama, group editor of Associated Newspaper of Zimbabwe which publishes the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday, and Fungi Kwaramba, one of his journalists, could be dropped. Defamation charges were brought against the two men in April by the influential businessman Kamal Khalfan over a series of articles suggesting that Khalfan, a controversial figure, used his political influence with the ruling Zanu PF party to obtain dubious contracts. The journalists will not now appear before the criminal courts, but the Daily News still faces a civil suit amounting to 10 million US dollars. The decision by the Constitutional Court is a positive sign, but it should be remembered that it had already delivered a ruling in this regard, said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, head of the Africa Desk at Reporters Without Borders. Yet the criminal code has not yet been amended and journalists continue to be arrested and harassed, as recent events have shown. RWB appeals to the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure the criminal code complies with the constitution and to end the harassment of journalists and news organizations. In fact, in the past week three news organizations have been subjected to violent raids by the police. Journalists were arrested and equipment was seized. Police yesterday raided the home of Edmund Kudzayi, editor of the state newspaper Sunday Mail, before moving on to Herald House in Harare, where the editorial staffs of The Herald and the Sunday Mail are based, and seizing a computer. The editor was then arrested and remains in custody. Police said he had been arrested in connection with publications he did. On the same day police went to the offices of the privately-owned newspaper Zimbabwe Independent, to arrest the editor, Dumisani Muleya. However, his colleagues refused to give his home address. The reasons for the polices attempt to detain him were not known. Muleya, who has since gone into hiding, was previously arrested, in April last year. Three days ago, the community station Radio Kwelaz was the target of a violent raid by the police on the pretext that it had no licence to broadcast. Armed with a search warrant, officers dismantled studio equipment, confiscating several CDs and a computer. Despite the liberalisation of the radio sector in 2012, only two commercial stations that are close to Zanu PF have been granted licences. So far there has been no response to the licence application by Radio Kwelaz. The authorities announced yesterday that the station had been allowed to broadcast again but its equipment has still not been returned.
Zimbabwe is ranked 135th of 180 countries in the 2014 edition of the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
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