Last Friday, armed police stormed the Daily News offices in Zimbabwe’s capital city and ordered its journalists out, arresting two of them for good measure. The newspaper was shut down.
Its closure was the final, draconian act of a government hellbent on stamping out the freedom of speech that is supposedly enshrined in its constitution.
The Daily News’s “crime” was to resist a system that requires all journalists to be registered with the state, providing detailed personal information about themselves, their families and their political affinities.
It argued that the move was unconstitutional and lodged a legal appeal. But, with brilliant logic, the authorities refuse to hear that appeal until the newspaper registers. It’s like refusing to hear a death sentence appeal until the convicted man is in the electric chair with the current switched on.
As the International Federation of Journalists points out, the forced closure of a newspaper is never a matter of law. It is a political act. For years, independent journalists throughout the country have suffered at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s increasingly totalitarian regime. The Daily News, one of his most outspoken critics, has often borne the brunt.
Three years ago, its offices were bombed. In January 2001, a truck packed with explosives was driven into the building housing its presses – which were destroyed in the resulting devastation.
Its journalists have been harassed at every turn. Yet through all this, the paper has continued to report, offering the only platform for dissenting voices against Mugabe’s authority. Even after this latest setback, its staff, led by editor-in-chief Francis Mdlongwa and editor Nqobili Nyathi, have vowed to keep “telling it like it is”.
They deserve all the support we can give them.