Zimbabwe detains head of private radio station

HARARE – Zimbabwe police have detained the head of a private radio station charged with operating without a licence after releasing three other journalists held in the same case, his lawyer said on Tuesday.

Police last week raided the Harare offices of Voice of the Peopl

e (VOP), a radio station that gathers news in Zimbabwe and feeds it into Radio Netherlands for broadcast back to the southern African country.

That raid resulted in the arrest of three journalists and the confiscation of computers in what analysts see as part of a renewed crackdown on government critics.

Human rights lawyer Rangu Nyamurundira said police detained VOP executive director John Masuku on Monday just hours after his three colleagues appeared briefly at Harare Magistrate Court before being released pending their next court date.

“Initially they said they were simply questioning Mr. Masuku and Mr. David Masunda, who is the board chairman of VOP, but later they indicated they were going to hold Mr. Masuku overnight and are likely to charge him with the same offence that they preferred on the others,” he told Reuters.

“It’s not clear when they are going to take him to court,” he said.

Political analysts say President Robert Mugabe’s embattled government has stepped up pressure on its opponents in the face of a deep economic crisis that has left what had been one of Africa’s most promising nations struggling with food, fuel and foreign currency shortages.

In the last two weeks the government has confiscated and later returned the passports of three outspoken critics, including that of a leading private newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube and of an opposition spokesman, under a law allowing the state to impose travel bans on “traitors.”

The Voice of the People (VOP) radio station was bombed in 2001 and lost all its broadcasting equipment, but the perpetrators were never caught.

Under Zimbabwe’s laws radio and television firms seeking to operate in the country need to obtain licences from a state licensing authority. The government maintains a monopoly on radio and television services within the country.

VOP does not broadcast from Zimbabwe, although it maintains offices and reporters there, and has argued that it technically does not need a government license. — Reuter