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US Condemns Closure of Only Independent Newspaper in Zimbabwe - 2003-09-15

The United States is condemning the closure of Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, and it is calling on the government of President Robert Mugabe to allow the paper to resume publication immediately.

The Bush administration has been a frequent critic of the Mugabe government's treatment of the opposition, and the State Department said Monday U.S. officials are "deeply troubled" by the police raid in Harare last Friday that shut down the Daily News and its companion publication, the Daily News on Sunday.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the closure was part of a pattern of unwarranted action against Zimbabwe's independent media, and said the step should be reversed immediately. "These actions are unwarranted infringements on press freedoms, and they are the latest incidents in a pattern of intimidation and violence directed against the independent media. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to permit the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday to resume publishing at once, and to cease intimidation and harassment of the independent media," he said.

The newspaper had refused to register with authorities under the Mugabe government's controversial media law, and was shut down after the Zimbabwean Supreme Court ruled it was operating illegally.

Spokesman Ereli said editors and staff of the Daily News had been arrested and harassed "numerous" times before, and that its printing press was bombed in January of 2001.

He said the latest closure deprives Zimbabweans of access to information beyond what he said were the government's "tightly controlled" news outlets, and he said it "reinforces concerns" that the media law, imposed shortly after Mr. Mugabe's re-election last year, could be used to restrict the independent media.

Mr. Ereli said the United States will closely monitor the case of the Daily News and the treatment of its publisher, who faces possible prosecution.