New York, December 19, 2005—Three staff members of the independent news production company Voice of the People (VOP) were released this morning after three days in jail, but VOP Director John Masuku was detained and could be charged with broadcasting without a license, local sources told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The broadcast charge carries a penalty of up to two years in jail.
VOP staffers Maria Nyanyiwa, Nyasha Bosha, and Kundai Mugwanda were detained on Thursday when police came to VOP offices in the capital, Harare, looking for broadcasting and transmitting equipment. Although police did not find such equipment, they confiscated computers, files, and other gear, according to local sources.
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.
The three staffers appeared in a Harare magistrate’s court this morning, where they were charged with contravening Section 27 of the Broadcasting Services Act, which prohibits possession or use of radio transmission equipment without a license, according to Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), which represented them. But the chief prosecuting officer refused to keep them in custody, saying there was no evidence against them, ZLHR director Arnold Tsunga told CPJ. Such a position makes it unlikely the three will be brought to trial unless the police bring new evidence, another human rights lawyer told CPJ.
Masuku went voluntarily to a Harare police station this morning, along with VOP Chairman David Masunda and lawyer Rangu Nyamurundira, Tsunga said. The other human rights lawyer said he expects that Masuku will appear in court later this week. Masunda was not held.
“John Masuku should be released immediately and the government should stop its harassment of Voice of the People staff,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.