March 15, 2002—In his first major act since his controversial reelection, Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe today signed into law the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill.
The new law requires all journalists in Zimbabwe to be licensed by a new Media and Information Commission. Under the law, only citizens or permanent residents can be accredited as journalists, although foreigners can be accredited for an unspecified “limited” period.
Zimbabwe’s independent media has long been a target for the Mugabe regime and its supporters. The offices and printing press of the independent Daily News have been bombed on several occasions. During the election campaign, ZANU-PF supporters declared several rural areas to be “no-go” zones for independent newspapers, and prevented their distribution.
Mugabe’s government threatened to bar foreign correspondents from covering the March 9 and 10 presidential elections. Although the government did accredit many foreign journalists, it denied visas to several others because of their professional affiliation, country of origin, or critical reporting.
Journalists fear that Mugabe’s government will use the new bill to exclude foreign correspondents from countries that are “hostile” to Zimbabwe.
The new law requires foreign journalists to obtain authorization for specific assignments from Zimbabwean embassies in their home countries before traveling to Zimbabwe.
Some foreign journalists in Zimbabwe told CPJ that they experienced harassment and intimidation by ruling-party supporters.