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Zimbabwe: Mugabe Says Media Law to Stay

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe says the tough, much criticized media law he promulgated in 2000 is not going to be repealed.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has been criticized by media and rights groups as an attempt by the Zimbabwean government to muzzle the independent media.

Among other things, the act requires publishing houses and journalists to apply to a government-appointed commission for a license to operate in Zimbabwe. Journalists caught practicing without a license face two years in jail, a fine or both.

Four newspapers have been closed and scores of journalists arrested for falling foul of various sections of the act. To date, none of the journalists has been convicted.

But President Mugabe says it is a good law and it is here to stay. He says he sees nothing wrong with requiring journalists to register to operate. In an interview with South African Broadcasting Corporation he said the law should not stop "genuine journalists from registering. He added that he did not see any reason for anyone to be denied registration unless these have been proved to be what he called "enemies, bitter enemies of the party."

Mr. Mugabe says sections of the act that did not go down well with Zimbabwe's neighbors and the international community have already been amended.

However, media groups in Zimbabwe say the act is unacceptable and have challenged the constitutionality of some of its sections to the highest court in the country. The supreme court has ruled in favor of the government.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa - a media watchdog - feels the law must go or be reformed. With the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, it is appealing to the African Union to review the law.

"We cannot live with a law that sends somebody to prison for two years for just communicating, without him getting a license or being accredited by the Media [and] Information Commission," said Matthew Takaona, the president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. "It's primitive."

Mr. Takaona believes the AU will make recommendations that might force Mr. Mugabe to reconsider.