THE United States government has condemned the passage of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (Aippa) Amendment Bill by parliament as “yet another attempt” by Zimbabwea
n authorities to suppress the independent press.
The US said it was clear the move was designed to “silence independent journalists from reporting on violence, corruption and economic mismanagement in the country”.
Washington’s reaction came as the Paris-based media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres RSF), condemned the amendment as further evidence of government’s crusade against freedom and democracy.
“Slowly but surely, Zimbabwe’s government is smothering democratic institutions in Zimbabwe,” the US government said in a statement this week.
“The latest move against the press is another sign that the government has yet to get serious about implementing the election guidelines of Sadc (the Southern African Development Community).”
Sadc election guidelines require governments to allow media access for all political parties, and to safeguard freedom of assembly, association, and expression, as well as free campaigning. The guidelines also require Sadc members to establish impartial and accountable election institutions.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said the Aippa amendments violated the Sadc protocol. The coalition said they “show a determination by Zanu PF to establish a pariah state. The amendments defy Section 7,5 of the Sadc principles and guidelines which compel member states to safeguard the human and civil liberties of all citizens including the freedom of movement, assembly, association and expression,” it said.
The amendments provide for a sentence of up to two years in prison, a fine or both for any journalist who tries to work without being accredited by the government appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC).
Forty-one ruling Zanu PF MPs agreed that journalists found practising without accreditation should be fined or jailed for two years or both, while 37 opposition Movement for Democratic Change MPs opposed the amendment.
Accusing Zimbabwe of not complying with the commitments to Sadc, RSF said: “We once again urgently call on South Africa to demand an explanation from Harare.”
The amendment reinforces the power of the MIC and government over journalists and the news media.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said it was appalling to see ministers determined to suppress the media and related freedoms.
“Laws are made to serve the national interest and not parochial party interests as Zimbabwe has witnessed since (Information minister Jonathan) Moyo was appointed junior minister following the violent June 2000 parliamentary election,” it said.
Moyo claimed the amendments were intended to “protect the state from attacks by enemies of the country” although media watchdog groups say the measure was calculated to prevent government scrutiny.
“The all-out censorship imposed by the Mugabe regime shows no sign of stopping,” RSF said. “This amendment will facilitate the imprisonment of intractable journalists and is further evidence of the government’s opposition to freedom and democracy.”