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Zimbabwe/<br>Press - 2002-02-11

They say it’s part of an overall assault on dissidents and opponents of President Robert Mugabe. Reporters in Zimbabwe fear the government may soon silence all but the official news organizations. Philip Tapfumaneyi is the factory manager of the Independent Daily News of Zimbabwe. He gives a visitor a tour of what’s left of the paper’s printing press - destroyed by a powerful explosion earlier this year. “ We were taken unawares. The printing press was actually bombed beyond repair, just good for the scrap metal dealers. And as you can see the factory itself was badly shattered with all the clouding having gone off. We’ve just repaired the clouding, but the printing press, there is nothing we can do. It has got to be replaced completely. “ The Daily News is the only daily newspaper in Zimbabwe not owned by the government. It has printed exposes on corruption in the government, the ruling ZANU-PF party and their close allies. Those allies include veterans of the guerrilla war against white rule in what was then Rhodesia. The editor in chief, Jeff Nyarotta believes he knows who was behind the bombing of the printing press. “We have no doubt who did it. Unfortunately, I’m not telling you who our prime suspect are, because your next question would be what proof do you have. And we don’t have the proof. But on the basis of circumstantial evidence, we’re convinced we know who did it. By way of example, the vehicle, which was used by the people who planted the bomb at our printing press, the registration number of that vehicle was recorded by security guards. We handed it over to the authorities, they keyed that number into their computer and when they saw what ever information came up on their screen, they decided they wanted to close the matter immediately.” Reporters in Zimbabwe have been under increasing pressure from the government. Mr. Nyarotta, himself, has been arrested twice by the police and was recently released on bail. He says that in the weeks leading up to the bombing, government criticism of the Daily News intensified dramatically. “We saw during that period an increase in the hostility of the government towards the independent press. This culminated in a number of arrests, detentions if you wish, of journalists, culminated in threats being made to journalists, culminated in bombing incidents to be specific at the daily news.” Recently, the government cancelled all accreditation for reporters and told them to reapply with signed statements vowing not to criticize the government or the nation. Jonathan Moyo is the Minister of Information and Publicity, one of the most powerful officials in the government. Mr. Moyo has barred foreign investment in domestic media and closed two private radio stations last year. He has also prepared regulations that would force all foreign journalists based in Zimbabwe to return to their home countries and reapply for admission. Many journalists doubt their applications would be approved. Also, visiting foreign journalists now have to be cleared by Mr. Moyo’s ministry at least 30 days before arriving in Zimbabwe. And whereas previous permits were issued for three weeks, the new ones allow for a stay of only two to five days. Just last week, Mr. Moyo’s office said Journalists who report on violence in Zimbabwe would be charged with assisting terrorism. Mr. Moyo’s office could not say why such actions against the independent and foreign press are being taking. Mr. Nyarotta describes Mr. Moyo as the worst enemy of press freedom Zimbabwe has ever known. “We’ve had a number of ministers of information since independence. I think the current incumbent is about number four or five. None of his predecessors went to the extent that Jonathan Moyo has gone to undermine the position of the independent press, to antagonize the independent press and also to antagonize the foreign media.” Some analysts believe the crackdown on the press is related to President Mugabe’s bid for reelection next year. But others fear it may be a prelude to a much a more violent purge of those who oppose the President.