Security agents raid private news production company

New York, December 15, 2005—
Zimbabwean police and intelligence agents today raided the independent news production company Voice of the People (VOP) in the capital, Harare. Police confiscated equipment and documents and held three staff members for questioning.

Local VOP staffers produce programs on a variety of community and political issues but do not broadcast directly within Zimbabwe. The programming is transmitted via shortwave from overseas; its broadcasts were recently scrambled within Zimbabwe, according to local sources.

“We condemn the police raid on Voice of the People and the harassment of VOP staff,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Zimbabwean authorities continue to show an utter intolerance toward anyone challenging the state’s monopoly on news and opinion.”

According to local sources, police arrived at the VOP offices with a search warrant to look for broadcasting and transmitting equipment. When staff members said there was no such equipment in the offices, the police left and returned with a reworded warrant allowing them to confiscate computers, other equipment, and files.

VOP staffers Maria Nyanyiwa, Nyasha Bosha and Kundai Mugwanda were detained, but it was not immediately clear whether they would be charged.

VOP was founded by former employees of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. Its employees have long faced harassment and intimidation from Zimbabwean authorities. CPJ records show that today’s raid closely resembled a similar raid on VOP in July 2002, when police searched the VOP offices for a transmitter, broadcasting equipment, and other evidence that VOP was violating the Broadcasting Services Act of 2001, which bars stations from broadcasting without a license. The police did not find a transmitter but confiscated tapes and files from the office.

In August 2002, the VOP offices were bombed by three unidentified assailants in the middle of the night. The building was demolished, though no staff members were harmed. See CPJ’s 2002 alert:

No licenses for private broadcasters have been issued in Zimbabwe. This week, a parliamentary communications committee criticized the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe for failing to issue licenses to private companies.