'We will not be silenced'
A director of Zimbabwe’s Daily News was arrested on Sunday, a day after police again shut down the troubled southern African country’s only independent daily newspaper, the paper’s legal adviser said.
The arrest of Washington Sansole in the country’s second city of Bulawayo came after police occupied the paper’s offices in the capital Harare on Saturday and briefly detained 18 other staff members.
The best-selling Daily News, a staunch critic of President Robert Mugabe, reappeared on the streets on Saturday more than a month after it was shut down for operating without a licence.
But as Zimbabweans rushed to get a copy, police swooped on its offices, detaining staff and shutting down its operations, and later went to the home of Daily News publisher Samuel Nkomo and arrested his niece.
The paper’s legal adviser Gugulethu Moyo said on Sunday the police wanted to interview the other eight company directors and had threatened to detain Sansole “until the other guys turn up.”
“It’s purely vindictive,” said Moyo. “It’s not about the law. It’s about dealing with perceived political opponents.”
The France-based media lobby group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF, Reporters Without Borders) called for the immediate release of Sansole.
RSF said the detentions showed that Zimbabwe’s authorities “are ready to do anything to prevent publication of the only independent daily in the country.”
Saturday’s comeback edition—touting the optimistic front-page headline “We’re back!”—appeared after a court ruled on Friday that the Daily News should be granted a licence before November 30.
No stranger to clashes with the government, the Daily News was shut down in September after Zimbabwe’s supreme court ruled it was operating illegally because it did not have a licence.
The paper then applied for a licence but was turned down by the state-appointed Media and Information Commission (MIC).
Tough new media laws introduced soon after President Mugabe was re-elected last year say that all journalists and publications must be registered.
Late on Sunday legal adviser Moyo said the paper would be filing a number of legal suits against Information Minister Jonathan Moyo and MIC chairman Tafataona Mahoso for “the damages we have suffered from this unlawful commission.”
The newspaper plans to sue for massive losses of revenue since its forced closure in September, among other things, she said. The challenges are expected to be filed on Monday.
Senior reporter Precious Shumba said on Sunday that the government would not be able to deny him and his colleagues their “right to tell the Zimbabwean story.”
“I feel the government is being harsh with us, and treating us like criminals,” he said. “But we will not be silenced.”
The Daily News, founded four years ago, was an alternative voice to the two state-run dailies, the Bulawayo-based Chronicle and The Herald, which toe the government line.
Its closure comes against a background of political unrest, severe economic crisis and one of the world’s highest rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Zimbabwe.
The former British colony’s opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is currently on trial for allegedly plotting the assassination of Mugabe.
His marathon trial, which started in February, was supposed to resume Monday. But his lawyers said over the weekend it was being put off until possibly next year because the judge had other engagements that might interrupt proceedings.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena on Sunday confirmed the arrest of Daily News director Sansole, a former high court judge, and said he was being charged with “carrying on the business of a media house without a certificate.”
Bvudzijena said the other company directors would face similar charges.
“They are supposed to get an operating licence before they can produce,” Bvudzijena said. “But they went on to produce yesterday (Saturday).”
The Daily News has a history of clashes with the government, which says it is a front for Western interests. Several of its reporters and photographers have been arrested, including prominent former editor and founder Geoff Nyarota.
It has also suffered two unexplained explosions—one at the paper’s offices and one at its printing presses.
The Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday employs around 300 full-time staff, and around 1 000 vendors sell the paper.