Mugabe launches fresh crackdown on free media

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The Independent Online

Zimbabwe launched a new attack on Britain yesterday, accusing it of secretly backing the country's first independent radio station, closed by police six days after it began test transmissions of music.

Zimbabwe launched a new attack on Britain yesterday, accusing it of secretly backing the country's first independent radio station, closed by police six days after it began test transmissions of music.

Despite a Zimbabwe high court ruling yesterday that the raid on the makeshift studios of Capital Radio in Harare on Tuesday was unlawful, the FM station's future was in the balance as the government rushed through broadcasting regulations by presidential decree.

The home affairs minister, John Nkomo, said Britain had "an interest" in the station and "it is up to them to deny it". He said British diplomats had "inundated" police with phone calls to try to stop them searching the house of a station director who has a British passport.

In a signal that President Robert Mugabe's government, which narrowly and violently won parliamentary elections in June, is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent, Mr Nkomo added: "The days of going to court will soon be past. We won't accept any resistance."

By his side at the special press conference, the 76-year-old president's spin doctor and information minister, Jonathan Moyo, said: "If there is a court which allows (independent broadcasting) in Zimbabwe, we will not allow it. It compromises our national security." He described Capital Radio's launch as "the clearest possible violation of our national security and of our sovereignty".

Capital Radio was funded by foreign charities. Last year, in a case later quashed by the high court, two journalists were accused of treason and allegedly tortured after their newspaper, The Standard, ran a story warning of an impending coup.

In the violence before the elections, won by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), a shop next to the independent Daily News was firebombed. A year after launch, the Daily News, which supports the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), sells 100,000 copies daily, more than the government mouthpiece, The Herald.

Zimbabwe, as in many African countries with a culture of one-party rule, has a vibrant independent press, broadly tolerated because most people cannot afford newspapers or cannot read well enough to follow written news. The broadcast media - especially radio - provides people with most of their information and governments want to control that.

Capital Radio was intending to take a cutting-edge approach to Zimbabwe's problems, a stagnant economy, pending food shortages and the issue of resolving land ownership.

Its directors, Mike Auret and Geraldine Jackson, were in hiding yesterday and the smashed door of their studio - a room on the 16th floor of the Monomotapa Hotel - had been sealed by police.

But Mr Auret's father, also called Mike, and a veteran human rights campaigner, said: "They had plans to do a lot with the station. They still have. They will not give up."

Mr Auret, an MDC MP, said three armed police officers had been outside his home since Tuesday "presumably awaiting orders".

The British High Commission was not answering enquiries yesterday over Mr Nkomo's claim.

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