11th December 2001
It is becoming all too apparent that President Robert Mugabe is not prepared to risk the outcome of a free and fair result in next year’s Presidential election in Zimbabwe.
Earlier this month, Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court declared the occupation of farms by supporters of Mr Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to be a legal act. This decision, which overturns all previous rulings, demonstrates the extent to which the Judiciary has been bent to the will of the Mugabe Government. Unfortunately, it is clear that Zimbabweans cannot expect to have recourse to the law of their own country in seeking redress for Government excesses.
Having tried, and failed, by intimidation, illegal imprisonment and torture, to muzzle Zimbabwe’s free press, the Zimbabean government is now attempting a similar legal route to close down the last area of civil society still prepared to speak out for democracy and human rights. New legislation, bluntly described as ‘obscene’ by Basildon Peta, Chairman of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, will ensure that Zimbabwe’s journalists will, in future, have to toe the Government line or risk imprisonment.
Amongst the legislation proposed is a register of permitted publications and licensed journalists. Articles or publications identified as spreading ‘alarm and despondency’ – in other words, which offend Government sensitivities, will be banned. Absurd press ‘standards’, such as the requirements that all journalists should have degrees in journalism, will further limit the ability of unlicensed writers to earn a living.
Zimbabwe’s independent journalists are in the front line in defending what little remains of freedom in that country, a fact acknowledged by the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ), which has recently announced the award of its Gold Medal to the independent press of Zimbabwe. Grotesquely, Mugabe has linked his assault on press freedom with the international ‘fight against terrorism’. Western governments, and the British Government in particular, must now make it clear that Mr Mugabe and his regime are pariahs.