- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 1, 2001

HARARE, Zimbabwe Hundreds of ruling-party militants marched through Zimbabwe's capital yesterday to support proposed legislation that would further restrict the media, stoning the offices of two independent weeklies and attacking vendors selling independent newspapers.
Militants loyal to President Robert Mugabe's party chased vendors from their stalls and tore up bundles of the Independent and Daily News newspapers. Police escorted the marchers, and did not try to stop the mayhem. Nor did they make any arrests. One photographer was injured.
Independent journalists vowed to fight the proposed legislation, which would establish a restrictive license system for journalists and authorize fines and imprisonment for violations of government-imposed standards.
Under the legislation, only Zimbabwean citizens would be able to obtain such a license, and special permission would be required for a Zimbabwean to work for a foreign news organization, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said.
"This must be fought with all the legal powers we have to prevent it seeing the light of day," said Trevor Ncube, publisher of the Zimbabwe Independent and Sunday Standard, the country's two main independent weeklies.
The proposed legislation marks the Mugabe government's latest effort to control independent and foreign media, which have covered its crackdown on political opposition and state-sanctioned occupations of white-owned farms.
Journalists have been beaten and arrested, and some foreign reporters have been deported.
Last week, a presidential spokesman accused some foreign journalists of being terrorists after they reported on political violence by ruling-party militants. That charge prompted diplomatic protests from Britain and the United States.
In an interview with the state-controlled Herald newspaper, Mr. Moyo said Mr. Mugabe's Cabinet approved the legislation this week, and it would be enacted before the presidential elections expected early next year. Parliament is dominated by the ruling party and is likely to pass the bill.
Mr. Mugabe, 77, has ruled since independence in 1980 and is seeking a further six-year term in office. But Zimbabwe's economy has fallen apart since Mugabe supporters began to occupy white-owned farms last year; Mr. Mugabe's popularity also has plummeted, placing him in danger of losing the race.
The details of the media bill have not been released. Mr. Moyo said the legislation would impose sentences of up to two years in prison and fines of up to $1,800 for defying "professional and ethical standards" that will be imposed by a government media commission.
He said it would make it an offense to "cause alarm and despondency" or spread information that discredits a person based on race, political conviction or a number of other categories.

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