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State media editors under surveillance

(MISA/IFEX) - In August 2008, editors working for the state-controlled Zimbabwe Newspapers Group (Zimpapers) were put under surveillance to check their commitment to the policies of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

The surveillance resulted in the hacking of the private email of one of the editors, Bhekinkosi Ncube, as authorised by the group's chief executive officer, Justin Mutasa. Following Ncube's suspension as editor of the vernacular tabloid "Umthunywa," Mutasa told an internal disciplinary hearing that he authorised the hacking of the editors' private emails. Zimpapers publishes "The Herald," "The Sunday Mail," "The Chronicle," "The Manica Post," "Kwayedza" and "Umthunywa."

Ncube is accused of insulting President Robert Mugabe and the government in private emails exchanged with friends about the political situation prevailing in the country. According to minutes of the proceedings obtained by the weekly privately owned newspaper "The Standard," Zimpapers information technology manager Tom Ndovi told the hearing that he accessed all the group editors' private emails using software known as "password cracker" and presented all the findings to the chief executive officer.

Ndovi reportedly testified that he was instructed to snoop through the editor's private emails from 3 - 15 August. Mutasa also admitted that editorial standards are not set by the group chief executive officer but are the prerogative of a given Minister of Information and Publicity. Mutasa is reported to have told the hearing, "Every incoming minister calls all the editors and expounds to them what he expects from them. Editors must comply."

Ncube's lawyers are arguing that the evidence against him violated the Interception of Communications Act, as Zimpapers accessed a private and secure email address without the owner's consent or a warrant.

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