New York, September 25, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the decision of a court in Zimbabwe today to dismiss charges of broadcasting without a license against 10 employees of independent news production company Voice of the People (VOP). A court in Harare threw the case out, calling it a “circus,” after the prosecution asked for a fourth postponement, according to defense lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and one of the defendants.
“We are quite thrilled,” Arnold Tsunga, a VOP trustee who is also director of the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights, told CPJ. But he said there was a risk that the state might now try to press charges against VOP as a legal entity, rather than against the individuals. The prosecutor had asked for another postponement in order to pursue this possibility, Mtetwa confirmed. “This is not a prosecution, this is a persecution,” said Mtetwa, who received an International Press Freedom Award from CPJ in 2005.
Several of the defendants were initially detained and released on bail.
Tsunga said VOP was trying to resume operations but had been virtually incapacitated in Zimbabwe since security forces raid its premises in December and confiscated equipment.
“While we welcome the court ruling, we deplore the government’s censorship of VOP and the persecution of its trustees and staff,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the authorities to return VOP’s equipment immediately and allow it to resume its independent news production without fear of reprisal.”
VOP produces radio programs in local languages on community and political issues but does not broadcast directly within Zimbabwe. The programs are broadcast on shortwave from overseas.
Those charged along with Tsunga were fellow trustees David Masunda, who is VOP’s chairman, Isabella Matambanadzo, Millicent Phiri, Lawrence Chibwea and Nhlanhla Ngwenya; VOP Director John Masuku; and three VOP staffers.