Mugabe police defy court and shut newspaper

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The Independent Online

Police in Zimbabwe again shut down the offices of the country's only independent daily newspaper last night in defiance of a court order allowing the paper to resume publishing.

The raid was made only hours after the High Court ordered the government to let the Daily News reopen. It was closed last week on charges of "operating illegally".

Abel Mutsakani, its deputy editor, said police had promised to comply with the High Court order, but had returned to raid the offices while staff were preparing today's edition.

"They just came in and ordered everybody to stop working. It's chaos here and we don't know what to do," he said.

Earlier, staff of the Daily News, who had packed the courtroom in Harare, cheered loudly as Judge Younis Omerjee granted a court order requested by the paper, allowing it to operate pending the outcome of an application to register with a government commission.

The judge also ordered the police to return all computers and other equipment seized from the offices of the Daily News and its sister paper, the Daily News on Sunday.

Gugulethu Moyo, legal adviser for Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), which owns the Daily News, said last night that the latest raid was "a travesty of justice".

The police originally moved in to shut the title after the Supreme Court, which is packed with government supporters, ruled that ANZ had failed to register with the government, under new media laws introduced by President Robert Mugabe.

When this ruling was overturned yesterday, Sam Sipepa Nkomo, the ANZ chief executive, said he would try to return the newspaper to the streets today. But Mr Mugabe's government has a record of ignoring court orders it dislikes, such as orders blocking the seizure of white farms or the deportation of journalists.

Mr Nkomo said his company would sue the police for loss of business and for acting vindictively and unlawfully.

Even if the newspaper can resume publishing, it could still be closed if the media commission, headed by a ruling party ideologue Tafataona Mahoso, turns down its application. Only one edition of the paper has appeared since it was ordered to shut.

The government's battle with the Daily News is being waged amid evidence of a wider attempt to silence the opposition. More than 100 pro-democracy activists were arrested on Wednesday as they protested against the newspaper's closure. They were freed yesterday after paying fines. Despite concerns at the latest crackdown, Thabo Mbeki, the South African President,rebuked white Commonwealth countries pushing for Mr Mugabe's isolation yesterday.