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Zimbabwe's Independent Paper CEO Charged - 2003-09-13

Authorities in Zimbabwe have charged the chief executive officer of The Daily News newspaper of operating an illegal company.

One day after the police ordered Zimbabwe's only independent daily to stop operating, Sam Siphepha Nkomo reported to the police, where he was formally charged with operating an unregistered publishing house. Mr. Nkomo was released, after recording a statement, but ordered to appear in court Monday.

The charges stem from Thursday's Supreme Court ruling, which said The Daily News was operating illegally because it had not registered under the controversial Access to Information and Privacy Act. The company argued that some sections of the Act violated press freedom and were unconstitutional, but said it would comply with the court ruling.

However, armed police moved into the paper's offices on Friday, and ordered all staffers out. Police guarded the building Saturday, allowing staff members inside only to collect personal belongings. It is not clear when the paper will be allowed to publish.

The Daily News had the highest circulation of any newspaper in Zimbabwe. As the country's only independent daily newspaper, it also frequently published criticisms of President Robert Mugabe. The paper's printing presses were blown up early in 2001, after the Information Ministry called it "a threat to national security."

The decision to shut The Daily News down has been widely condemned by media organizations in Zimbabwe as an attack on press freedom. The local branch of the Media Institute of Southern Africa said the closing down of the paper "robs the country of one of its few alternative voices."

But the chairman of the Media Information Commission, Tafataona Mahoso, dismissed the complaints. He told the Reuters news agency that "there is freedom of press in Zimbabwe, but no freedom to act as an outlaw."