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Privately-owned newspaper "The Zimbabwean" harassed

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the Zimbabwean authorities' repeated harassment and intimidation of "The Zimbabwean", a privately-owned newspaper that is edited in Britain and printed in South Africa. In the latest instance, criminal charges of "publishing falsehoods" have been brought against the directors of Adquest, the company that distributes it inside Zimbabwe. No date has yet been set for their trial.

"We deplore the fact that the privately-owned Zimbabwean media are still exposed to police-state reactions and intimidation attempts," Reporters Without Borders said. "It is unjust and absurd to target this newspaper's distributors, who are not responsible for its content. This is all the more disturbing as the national unity government formed a year ago said it intended to guarantee press freedom."

Adquest directors Barnabas Madzimure and Fortune Mutandiro were arrested by the police on 10 February 2010, charged under criminal law with "publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the state" and then released. The previous day, three of Adquest's drivers were detained and questioned for three hours before being freed.

The arrests were prompted by a story in the 10 January issue headlined "Mnangagwa plots fight back: talk of new splinter group," which reported that defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa had met secretly with other leading members of the ruling ZANU-PF party with a view to taking control of the party.

"Madzimure and Mutandiro had nothing to do with this," said "The Zimbabwean" editor Wilf Mbanga. "They were not even responsible for distributing the 10 January issue, because we did not start working with Adquest until 14 January. We were distributed by Publications Distributors at that time."

One of the newspaper's reporters, Stanley Kwenda, fled Zimbabwe in mid-January after being threatened by Chrispen Makedenge, a senior police officer implicated in the abduction of journalists and members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the opposition party that has entered into a power-sharing arrangement with ZANU-PF.

The cause of democracy has not advanced a great deal since the national unity government was installed almost exactly a year ago. Press freedom has improved but major progress has yet to be seen.

Reporters Without Borders urges the authorities to foster a more favourable climate for privately-owned and independent newspapers, above all by allowing the Zimbabwe Media Council (ZMC) to become operational. A new autonomous entity that is empowered to issue licences to newspapers, the ZMC should be able to facilitate the independent press's rebirth. Its nine members have been named but it has still not begun working.

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