THE Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is outraged at your government’s continued clampdown on independent media in Zimbabwe, including proposed new legislation that could be used to jail journalists for up to 20 years.
At a time when several other African countries are lifting criminal sanctions for press offences, bringing their laws in line with international standards, Your Excellency’s government is preparing to introduce penalties that are among the harshest on the continent. This will only further impede Zimbabwe’s media, which already face other restrictive laws.
According to local and international press reports, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill currently before parliament, imposes up to 20 years’ imprisonment, heavy fines, or both for publishing “false” information deemed prejudicial against the state. Clause 31 would make it an offence to publish or communicate “to any other person a statement which is wholly or materially false with the intention or realising that that there is a real risk of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety; or adversely affecting the defence and economic interests of Zimbabwe; or undermining public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the prison service or the defence forces of Zimbabwe; or interfering with, disrupting or interrupting any essential service.”
This comes on top of the already draconian Public Order and Security Act (Posa) and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa), which was last month strengthened to impose a jail sentence of up to two years for any journalist caught working without accreditation from the government-controlled media commission.
Dozens of journalists have already been detained and harassed under Aippa and Posa since these laws were introduced in 2002, while Aippa has been used to shutter Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News.
As well as intimidating journalists, CPJ sources say the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Bill could be used to intimidate their sources. They fear that the law’s language could also be used broadly against Zimbabweans who communicate with news outlets and other organisations based abroad.
These moves to tighten already restrictive legislation come in the run-up to general elections scheduled for March 2005. We respectfully remind Your Excellency of Zimbabwe’s commitment to the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, which include safeguarding freedom of expression and access to the media (Section 7.4).
We call on Your Excellency to do everything within your power to repeal all repressive media legislation and ensure that the draconian proposals currently before parliament are dropped. We also urge you to do all in your power to allow the Daily News to re-open and independent journalists to work in Zimbabwe without fear of reprisal.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.
Ann K Cooper,
Committee to Protect Journalists,