Prosecution of journalist postponedAmended bill could restrict press further

New York, October 31, 2002—Judicial authorities in Zimbabwe have agreed to postpone the prosecution of Lloyd Mudiwa, a reporter with the independent Daily News, after the government acknowledged that the section of the country’s harsh new press law under which Mudiwa is charged violates the constitution.

However, rather than dropping the case against Mudiwa, the government is seeking to amend the press law and plans to prosecute the journalist under the redrafted legislation.

“To apply the amended press law retroactively to Mudiwa’s case makes a mockery of the Zimbabwean legal system.” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper, “This is harassment, pure and simple.”

Last week, the government released the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Amendment Bill of 2002, which will update the original law. The original legislation was passed in March and has since been used to clamp down on Zimbabwe’s already beleaguered independent media.

Mudiwa was originally charged under the law’s Section 80 for “abusing journalistic privileges” after a story he wrote in the Daily News in late March erroneously accused government supporters of beheading an opposition activist. The journalist’s case has now been postponed until February 2003, reported sources in the capital, Harare.

Zimbabwean journalists are also concerned that the amended bill will consolidate the state’s control over the media by expanding the powers of the official Media and Information Commission, which currently registers news professionals and maintains oversight of media activities in the country.