- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe’s opposition leader warned yesterday that increased repression is certain to follow the government’s closure of the nation’s only independent daily newspaper.

“There was hardly an edition of the Daily News that didn’t carry reports of the state abusing our citizens,” Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said in a telephone interview.

“Now, the repression is sure to be increased because all the other dailies are owned by the government and are not allowed to criticize the regime.”

Police shut down the Daily News last week after Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court ruled that its publisher, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), was operating illegally, as it had not registered under media laws introduced by Robert Mugabe’s government.

This week, Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered that the Daily News be allowed to resume publishing, but it was not clear if the order would be carried out.

In Harare, police rounded up about 100 people yesterday for demonstrating against the government crackdown, and police continued to seize equipment from the shuttered newspaper.

Mr. Tsvangirai said the government’s actions have left the nation “at the mercy of tyrants.”

Mr. Mugabe pushed through laws requiring newspapers to be registered with the state and to submit details of the political affiliation of each staff member.

The Daily News’ chief executive, Sam Nkomo, said that on Monday his workers had been allowed into the building, where they produced an Internet edition.

“However, on Tuesday, police arrived without a search warrant or any other documents and began removing our computers and all other equipment from the building. They loaded everything into trucks and took it to an unknown location, so we are not even able to publish online. We have been left with nothing.”

Mr. Mugabe, 79, came to power in 1980. International observers say that last year’s presidential election, which returned him to power, was marred by rigging and intimidation. Most Western countries, including the United States, refused to recognize the result.

After nationalizing the nation’s newspapers 1982, the Mugabe government held a virtual monopoly on the news media until the emergence of the Daily News in 1999.

The paper’s journalists have been arrested and harassed repeatedly. Government militias frequently assault anyone carrying a copy of the Daily News.

In 2002, human rights groups, including Amnesty International, reported more than 70,000 cases of torture and abuse by government forces, virtually none of which was reported in the state-owned newspapers. The government also controls all radio and television broadcasts.

In the wake of Mr. Mugabe’s coercive land-reform program, in which white-owned farms were seized and given to landless blacks, the U.N. food agencies estimate that 70 percent of the country’s 12 million people now live under conditions of famine.

Mr. Nkomo said he was optimistic that his newspaper eventually would be granted a license to publish.

“We have now submitted our papers and the act says that we are supposed to be given an answer within between “zero and 60 days so we now have to wait,” he said. “Sadly, in the meantime, we have 310 staff who are out of work.”

But Mr. Tsvangirai said he did not believe that the Zimbabwe government understood the concept of a free press.

“Press freedom is no longer a debate. It is accepted as an international right. But Zimbabwe is one of the few places where the state believes that citizens have no right to freedom whatsoever,” he said.

“Our only hope is that freedom-loving people everywhere will apply whatever pressure they can because that may be the only way the Daily News will start up again,” he said. “Until then, we will be at the mercy of tyrants.”

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