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Shortwave radio sets seized in rural areas

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an excerpt from a 1 December 2010 RSF press release:

Reporters Without Borders has learned that police in rural areas have for some time been confiscating shortwave radio sets from people caught listening to programmes made by Zimbabwean journalists in exile. The press freedom organization firmly condemns the use of such methods to censor information and restrict individual freedom. They must stop at once, and the sets must be returned to their owners.

NGOs recently distributed shortwave radio sets to rural residents to enable them to receive alternative radio programmes broadcast from abroad. Studio 7, Radio VOP (Voice of the People) and Shortwave Radio Africa – broadcast from Washington, South Africa and London, respectively – have around 1 million listeners. Studio 7 contributed to the distribution of radio sets so that people could listen to something other than the pro-government Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).

Five homes in Bikita West, in the province of Masvingo, were raided on 25 November and radio sets were seized. Norbert Chinyike and Charles Mhizha, two supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change (the former opposition party currently in a shaky coalition with Mugabe's ZANU-PF), were arrested after radio sets were found in their possession. They were later released without being charged.

Shortly before that, police searched the offices of the NGO Democratic Councils Forum in Gweru and arrested an employee after discovering radio sets that were awaiting distribution in the countryside.

Jastone Mazhale, the president of the Gwanda Agenda pressure group, said police inspected his offices and questioned him about radio sets. He said they told him they were acting on orders from police headquarters in Harare.

Radio sets that had been distributed to rural residents by NGOs were seized by police in Mashonaland East on 27 October.

A representative of the human rights group ZimRights said police, accompanied by members of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), carried out an operation in Murehwa district, confiscating radio sets that had been distributed by NGOs and threatening the residents who were found with them.

National police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said he was unaware of such incidents but promised to make enquiries.

"We condemn this large-scale censorship campaign being carried out in rural areas of the country where access to news is already limited and where the authorities deliberately try to keep the media presence to a minimum," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said.

"These measures are designed to limit the population's access to freely-reported news and to ensure that the views expressed by pro-government media are not challenged by the views of independent and opposition media," Julliard added. "This is an attack on media diversity."

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