- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

HARARE, Zimbabwe Lawmakers in Zimbabwe passed new laws yesterday imposing sweeping media restrictions that critics say are aimed at silencing journalists in advance of the March presidential elections.

The law was passed without a vote being called in the 150-seat Parliament, where ruling-party members outnumbered opposition lawmakers.

The Parliament speaker announced that debate on the bill had concluded, and when the opposition did not ask for a vote, the legislation was declared passed by assent. Parliament then adjourned until May 26.

The campaign for the March 9-10 presidential elections officially kicked off yesterday, when President Robert Mugabe and his top challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, registered their candidacies.

The measures, which must still be signed into law by Mr. Mugabe, give the government broad powers to license journalists and register media organizations under strict terms laid down by the state.

They allow the setting up of a state-appointed media commission with disciplinary powers to withdraw licenses, confiscate equipment and draw up charges against journalists.

They also limit foreign reporters visiting to the country to reportage on specific assignments and allow only Zimbabwean citizens or immigrants with permanent-residence status to staff international media offices in Zimbabwe.

Journalists prosecuted under these laws face up to two years in jail.

The main opposition party has accused the government of including these media curbs in a package of repressive laws to muzzle criticism in advance of the election.

Welshman Ncube, opposition secretary-general, said two series of amendments to the original proposed legislation watered down the terms.

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