New York, November 2, 2000 — Zimbabwe’s minister of information and publicity has threatened to charge two independent Harare newspapers, the Daily News and the weekly Standard, and their senior staff with criminal defamation. The minister also warned that the government would soon amend press laws in order to silence the two papers “once and for all.”
Minister Jonathan Moyo’s threats relate to recent articles in the two papers reporting that President Robert Mugabe had lost a US$ 400-million lawsuit for human rights abuses filed against him in the United States. Both papers quoted sources as saying that because Mugabe did not respond to the suit the plaintiffs won by default. But official U.S. judicial sources told the government newspaper The Herald that there had been no ruling in the case, though Mugabe’s time to respond had expired.
In an interview with the state-owned radio station on October 31, Moyo said that the news of the president’s legal troubles was false and publishing it amounted to willful defamation, a criminal offense punishable by five years in prison under Zimbabwean law. Moyo further stated that the government was reviewing Zimbabwe’s current media laws “to bring to a stop once and for all the kind of journalism typified by the Daily News and the Standard.” Both newspapers have been consistent critics of Mugabe’s government.
The lawsuit seeks damages from Mugabe for his alleged role in the violence that preceded parliamentary elections in June, in which more than 30 people died, nearly all of them supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). It was filed in Manhattan before Judge Victor Marrero of the United States Disctrict Court for Southern New York by four survivors of the violence. The complaint was served on Mugabe while he was attending the UN Millennium Summit here in September.