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Zimbabwean Police Arrest Independent Newspaper Staffers - 2003-10-25

Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper has returned, but within hours of its hitting the streets, editorial staffers were arrested by police.

The arrests come after The Daily News appeared on the streets Saturday as an eight-page issue under the headline, "We Are Back." It also carried a story about Friday's ruling by a court that ordered the government to grant it a license.

According to Bill Saidi, the editor of the newspaper's Sunday edition, 18 staff members were picked up by police, as they worked on the Sunday edition.

Mr. Saidi could not say on what charges they were arrested. Attempts to get a comment from police about the arrests were unsuccessful.

Friday's ruling was silent on when the paper could resume publishing, which appeared to be an issue of contention. Mr. Saidi said The Daily Newswent ahead with Saturday's edition on the understanding that it could publish while it waited for the appropriate registration from the government commission that previously had refused that.

The Administrative Court on Friday accused the commission of bias, and said it was improperly constituted and could not issue certificates of registration.

The court also ordered that the properly constituted commission must issue The Daily Newsa certificate of registration on or before November 30. If that is not done, then the newspaper would be considered registered anyway.

The Daily Newshad refused to register under Zimbabwe's new media law, signed last year, which requires all media outlets and journalists to register with the commission.

The newspaper and numerous other domestic and foreign news organizations operating in Zimbabwe consider the law an unacceptable infringement of freedom of the press.

The publishers of The Daily Newsasked the Zimbabwe Supreme Court to declare parts of the media law unconstitutional. But the court ruled that the publishers had to register with the government commission, before they could bring any complaint.

When the newspaper then tried to register, the commission turned down the application, in part because, it said, The Daily Newshad been operating illegally.

The chairman of the commission, Tafataona Mahoso, said it would appeal Friday's administrative court decision to the Supreme Court. Saturday's edition hit the streets before the commission launched its appeal.