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Zimbabwe Seizes Passport of Prominent Publisher


Zimbabwe's immigration authorities Thursday seized the passport of Trevor Ncube, publisher of Zimbabwe's last independent newspaper group and a prominent critic of President Robert Mugabe and his administration. Mr. Ncube has become the first Zimbabwean to fall victim to a controversial constitutional amendment, which gave the government powers to deny citizens travel documents.

Mr. Ncube arrived from South Africa in second city Bulawayo Thursday to attend his brother's wedding over the weekend. He said a man who identified himself as a member of the Central Intelligence Organization followed him out of the airport after he had cleared immigration and customs, and asked him to produce his passport.

Mr. Ncube said the man then told him the government is seizing his passport, and asked him to report to immigration in Bulawayo on Friday. Mr. Ncube said the security agent said the government had a long list of Zimbabweans who would have their passports withdrawn.

Detailed scanning of passports at some airports follows the enactment of a constitutional amendment last August that authorizes the government to withdraw travel documents from some Zimbabwean citizens.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa told parliament at the time that the amendment was in "the national interest" and was intended to deny travel privileges to Zimbabweans who criticized the government in foreign countries, which, he said, adversely affected the economy.

Mr. Ncube, who resides in Johannesburg, is the major shareholder in a company which owns two weekly newspapers in Zimbabwe, the only ones which media analysts say can be considered as independent. He also owns a widely read South African newspaper, The Mail and Guardian, which was an outspoken critical voice during the apartheid years.

Analysts say he has a tough decision to make. If he seeks an exit permit or a refugee travel document to return to South Africa, they say, he might not be allowed back as long as the constitutional law remains in effect.

Several human rights activists, other journalists and anti government political figures have expressed fear their passports may be withdrawn the next time they try to leave or enter Zimbabwe.

Similar law was once adopted by the apartheid government in South Africa and forced many political activists into exile for decades.