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Newspaper suffers 70 percent drop in circulation as it staggers under "luxury" tax intended to restrict flow of independent news

(WAN/IFEX) - The following is a 2 July 2008 WAN letter to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe:

His Excellency Robert Mugabe
President of Zimbabwe
Harare, Zimbabwe

2 July 2008

Your Excellency,

We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum, which represent 18,000 publications in 102 countries, to call on you to immediately lift the punitive "luxury" tax imposed on imported newspapers, magazines and periodicals, which is clearly aimed at preventing independent newspapers from reaching the people of Zimbabwe.

On 8 June, the state-owned Herald newspaper reported that all "foreign newspapers sold in Zimbabwe will now have to pay import duty, as the government moves to protect Zimbabwean media space". The newspaper went on to say that this move is meant to curb the entry into the country of what it called "hostile foreign newspapers".

All foreign publications are now classed as luxury goods and therefore attract import duty at 40 percent. The tax appears to be particularly aimed at South African-based news sources, which have been extremely important to Zimbabweans. All domestic independent newspapers and broadcasters in Zimbabwe are banned.

The Zimbabwean, a twice-weekly newspaper printed in South Africa for distribution in Zimbabwe, has been forced to pay almost USD20,000 per week and is reducing its circulation from 200,000 copies to 60,000 as a result. The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority refused to release a consignment of 60,000 copies of the 19 June issue of The Zimbabwean. This followed the burning of 60 000 copies of The Zimbabwean on Sunday on 25 May.

We respectfully remind you that restricting access to information by punitive taxation constitutes a clear breach of the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by numerous international conventions, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the Declaration states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.'

We respectfully call on you to remove the luxury tax on foreign publications and to end state intimidation of the independent media. We urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure that in future your country fully respects international standards of freedom of information.

We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Gavin O?Reilly
World Association of Newspapers

Xavier Vidal-Folch
World Editors Forum

WAN is the global organization for the newspaper industry, with formal representative status at the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe. The organization groups 18,000 newspapers in 102 countries, 12 news agencies and 11 regional and world-wide press groups. WAN is non-governmental and non-profit.

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