(Source: CPJ, edited by Issa Sikiti da Silva).Zimbabwe Police has started what many observers see as ‘dirty’ tricks to curtail free speech ahead of the crucial elections that will pit veteran President Robert Mugabe against his sworn-enemy Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The state-controlled daily newspaper Herald reported last week that police confiscated ‘specially designed radios’ from the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a local human rights group headed by former journalist Jestina Mukoko.
NGOs have distributed hand-cranked and solar-powered radios in Zimbabwe since 2005, but the ruling ZANU-PF-led government has a pattern of cracking down on such devices ahead of election cycles, local media say.
This seizure has angered the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which said last night that the confiscation of these radios shows to what lengths the Zimbabwean authorities will go to try to keep their citizens in the dark.
“Zimbabweans have a right to a wide variety of information, especially ahead of elections. This ban must be lifted immediately,” CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said in a statement.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights association also entered the fray. The rights group was quoted by local media as saying: “This ban is illegal, and the confiscation of radios from the public violates the right to receive and impart information as guaranteed under the constitution.”
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba accused ZPP of possessing ‘gadgets’ that it is using to promote hate speech against certain political parties, pro-government Patriot reported.
The crackdown is a fear tactic used against independent organisations critical of President Mugabe ahead of the constitutional referendum scheduled in March and the general elections scheduled for July, the CPJ statement quoted local journalists said.
In recent weeks, police raids on the offices of independent NGOs and political violence against the opposition have heightened tension, CPJ said.
*Photo by Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP