By Stella Mapenzauswa
A Zimbabwe magistrate rejected an appeal from directors of a closed private daily newspaper yesterday, saying it should not have published before obtaining a licenc
e required under strict new media laws.
Harare Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe ordered four directors of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), which publishes the Daily News, to appear in court on February 6 for a routine hearing pending a trial date.
The case against the Daily News – Zimbabwe’s largest independent daily and a frequent critic of President Robert Mugabe’s government – has thrown a spotlight on new media laws critics say are aimed at silencing Mugabe’s opponents.
The directors had appealed against charges filed against them by the government after they published an issue on October 25 following a court ruling which said the state media commission erred in denying them a publishing licence.
Police immediately closed the newspaper and arrested four of its directors, who were later freed on bail.
State lawyers argued that the Administrative Court’s order for the commission to grant the newspaper a licence by November 30 did not give ANZ authority to resume publication immediately.
“My understanding of the judgement is that…the decision does not include that ANZ was registered (to publish) by the decision. It is therefore in my view incorrect to state that the Administrative Court registered ANZ,” Guvamombe said on Thursday.
“I am of the view that clearly there is a reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed.”
ANZ lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she would appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.
The media has accused Mugabe’s government of using the new regulations to strangle the private press as Zimbabwe sinks into a deepening crisis which critics blame on Mugabe’s political and economic mismanagement.
Mugabe, in power since Independence from Britain in 1980, attributes the problems to sabotage by domestic and foreign opponents of his policy of seizing white-owned farms to give to landless blacks.
The media law, enacted after Mugabe’s controversial re-election last year, requires newspapers to apply for licences and threatens stiff penalties if they do not comply.
The Daily News was first closed in September after the Supreme Court found it to be operating illegally. – Reuter.