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Cablegate: Government Raids and Closes Only Independent Daily

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001866

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR AF FOR A/S KANSTEINER AND PDAS SNYDER; AF/S FOR
DELISI AND RAYNOR; AF/PDPA FOR DALTON, MITCHELL AND SIMS
NSC FOR JENDAYI FRAZER
LONDON FOR GURNEY
PARIS FOR NEARY
NAIROBI FOR PFLAUMER
GUATEMALA CITY FOR DCM WHARTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM KPAO KMDR ZI
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT RAIDS AND CLOSES ONLY INDEPENDENT DAILY
NEWSPAPER

REF: HARARE 1852

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. NOT FOR INTERNET POSTING.
PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) Summary: Friday night, September 12, police
units raided the offices and printing press of the largest
circulation daily newspaper in Zimbabwe, The Daily News
(TDN), forcing production to cease. Thursday's Supreme
Court ruling declared the paper's operations "illegal"
under the Access to Information and Privacy Protection Act
(AIPPA) (reftel). According to TDN eyewitnesses, raiding
authorities presented no warrant or court order during the
raid. Senior TDN executives advise that the paper will seek
resumption of operations by registering as required by the
Supreme Court ruling. They will then resume their
challenge of AIPPA on constitutional grounds. At this
juncture, it is impossible to divine when and if TDN will
resume publication. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, "The
Daily News," has failed to appear on the streets since
September 13 following the closure of its offices and
printing press last Friday, September 12, by paramilitary
police, a day after the Supreme Court ruled that TDN was
operating illegally. The newspaper's Sunday edition, "The
Daily News on Sunday," was also prevented from publishing
September 14. Since "The Daily News" began publishing in
1999 the "Daily News" has never failed to go to print, even
when it suffered a January 2001 firebomb attack that
destroyed its printing press. The last time a newspaper
was banned in the country was nearly 40 years ago when the
white minority Rhodesian government outlawed an African
nationalist newspaper, also called the "Daily News."

3. (U) The closure of "The Daily News" and its sister
weekly "The Daily News on Sunday" came after the publishers
of the two titles, Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ),
lost a court battle in which it challenged the
constitutionality of the requirement that they register
under Section 66 of the controversial AIPPA, signed by
Robert Mugabe after last year's disputed presidential
election. The AIPPA requires news organizations to
register with the Media and Information Commission (MIC).
The "Daily News" has been operating without a license in
defiance of the law passed last year. Instead of
registering, ANZ challenged some sections of the AIPPA in
the Supreme Court. In its ruling, the Supreme Court ruled
that ANZ should have complied with the law by registering
to operate a newspaper before launching its challenge.
Under the terms of the AIPPA, the MIC chairman, former
journalism lecturer Dr. Tafaona Mahoso, could fine the ANZ,
jail its officers, or confiscate its equipment.

4. (SBU) Nkomo was to have appeared in magistrate's court
the afternoon of September 15, but according to TDN
representatives, the police failed to present charges.
Gugulethu Moyo, ANZ's counsel, said that she attempted to
register the TDN with the MIC the morning of September 15.
The MIC accepted the application, and in response to Moyo's
request to be allowed back into TDN offices said that they
"would consider it soon." MIC Chairman Mahoso suggested in
the press that a quick and automatic re-opening of the
closed newspapers may prove elusive. "Arriving at the
doorsteps does not mean that they will be registered. It
was them who went to court to report their own crime and
not us," Dr. Mahoso is quoted in the government-controlled
press as saying, adding that "scrutinizing the application
was a process that may take some time." Meanwhile,
according to Moyo, TDN is preparing an urgent application
to have the closure declared illegal.

5. (U) Since it was founded three years ago, the paper
has faced constant harassment by authorities. Its former
editor-in-chief, Geoffrey Nyarota, and several staff
members have been arrested on various charges under the
AIPPA and some staff have been beaten by pro-government
supporters. Dozens of TDN reporters have been denied
accreditation with the MIC.

6. (U) The Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe
(MISA-Zimbabwe) has condemned the closure of "The Daily
News" and "The Daily News on Sunday", describing it as an
assault on the constitutional right of freedom of
expression and a denial of media diversity in Zimbabwe.
"The sudden closure of `The Daily News' robs the country of
one of the few alternative voices in an increasingly
restricted space where Zimbabweans can freely express
themselves," MISA-Zimbabwe said in statement released in
Harare on September 13.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: The closure of TDN could be a simple
case of the government displaying its power before allowing
TDZ to resume publication after registering with the MIC.
Or these actions could be part of Information Minister
Jonathan Moyo's personal vendetta against the lone daily
independent newspaper (the ANZ executives' privately
expressed view). In either case, registration could take a
long time, and the paper would be prevented from publishing
in the meantime. Discussions with many of the day-to-day
staff have revealed that they have taken on gallows humor,
referring to themselves as ex-editors of former The Daily
News. They feel that the government has decided to stop
tolerating an independent critical voice and will prosecute
the matter to the full extent of the law. The case
suggests that, notwithstanding its ongoing efforts to
present a more moderate face to domestic opposition and the
international community, the government will continue to
employ a wide array of tools to punish and to stifle its
critics. END COMMENT


SULLIVAN

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