The publisher and three directors of The Daily News, the independent Zimbabwean newspaper highly critical of President Robert Mugabe’s government, were to appear in court on Tuesday after being arrested for publishing without a licence.
A company lawyer, Gugulethu Moyo, said the four, who spent the night in police holding cells after their arrest on Monday, were due in a magistrate’s court on Tuesday morning.
But the hearing was delayed for no stated reason, and Moyo speculated that the police were merely seeking to punish the owners of the country’s only private daily newspaper.
”The police are detaining people not because they require time with them for any investigations, but it seems they intend to punish them before they have actually been convicted of any crime, and it’s very disappointing,” Moyo told reporters outside the courtroom.
”Quite clearly people are being denied access to justice,” she said.
The charges against the paper’s owners — who include the paper’s publisher, Samuel Nkomo — follow the short-lived return to the newsstands on Saturday of The Daily News, six weeks after it was shut down by the authorities.
The reappearance of the popular newspaper followed a court ruling on Friday that a state-appointed media commission had been wrong to deny the paper a licence when it applied for one in September.
It ordered the paper to be licensed by November 30.
Police, insisting that the newspaper cannot publish until it actually has a certificate, on Saturday shut down the paper’s city offices for the second time in as many months, and briefly detained 18 staff members.
Under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act signed into law by Mugabe in March last year, just days after his disputed re-election, all publications and journalists must be licensed.
The Supreme Court had ruled in September that The Daily News — which was contesting the constitutionality of the Act — was operating illegally and should register under the new law.
Moyo said that police had recorded statements from the directors and there was no need to detain them any longer.
If their hearing does not take place in the afternoon, Moyo said they would seek a High Court order for their release. An urgent application was made on Monday, but no judge was available to hear it.
One of the paper’s directors, Washington Sansole, arrested in Zimbabwe’s second largest city, Bulawayo, on Sunday, was released on Monday on a High Court order.
Lawyers on Tuesday were denied access to the directors.
If convicted under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, The Daily News‘s directors face a maximum fine of Z$300 000 Zimbabwe dollars (about R2 500) or a two-year prison sentence.
The other three directors are Rachel Kupara, Michael Mattinson and Brian Mutsau.
The Daily News was established in 1999 as an alternative to its main rivals — the state-run Herald and Chronicle dailies. — Sapa-AFP