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MISA cautiously welcomes signing of MOU between main political parties, stresses need for free expression guarantees

(MISA/IFEX) - The following is a 22 July 2008 MISA press release:

MISA-Zimbabwe Statement on SADC/AU mediated signing of MOU between political parties in Zimbabwe

MISA Zimbabwe cautiously welcomes the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between ZANU-PF and the two formations of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) as the three main political parties in Zimbabwe on 21 July 2008.

Our cautious optimism is premised on the understanding that while there is an urgent need for dialogue in Zimbabwe, the dialogue in question should not be the exclusive preserve and prerogative of political parties alone but an inclusive process that embraces the inclusion of civil society organizations, as opposed to the exclusionary nature of the MOU.

We reaffirm civil society's position on the need for a new people-driven constitution that expressly guarantees media freedom as outlined in the Zimbabwe's People's Charter.

MISA-Zimbabwe further notes that two of the agenda items outlined in the MOU relate to the "media" and "external" radio stations. While we are not privy to the actual contents of the agenda items, we are of the view that the two-week negotiation period should be preceded by an unequivocal and explicit guarantee of the right of freedom of expression, access to information and freedom of the media through the following actions:

1. An immediate cessation of the arrests, harassment and torture of journalists and media houses reporting on Zimbabwe.

2. The granting of permission to all media houses (both foreign and local) to cover the political situation as it unfolds.

3. The suspension and subsequent repealing of all repressive legislation that targets the media and, in particular, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) and the Interception of Communications Act.

4. An immediate conversion of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation from a state broadcaster into a truly independent public broadcaster as mandated under the guidelines of the African Charter on Broadcasting. This should also be accompanied by a freeing of the airwaves to allow for commercial and community broadcasting.

It is MISA-Zimbabwe's strong submission that in the intervening interim period and in view of these developments all policies relating to the media should be guided and informed by the principles outlined under Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, which states that every individual shall have the right to receive information and the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.

The Windhoek Declaration's Article 9 also states that "African states should be encouraged to provide constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of association and expression".

MISA-Zimbabwe therefore implores the negotiating parties as well as the mediators to remain true to the need for a transitional process that carries the people's confidence. This can only be achieved in an environment that immediately allows citizens to enjoy their fundamental right to freedom of expression, association, assembly, access to information and media freedom.

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