Zimbabwe's police on Monday detained four directors of the company publishing the nation's only independent daily newspaper. The Daily News appeared on the streets Saturday, but the police have detained a score of staffers and blocked access to the building in an effort to prevent the newspaper from publishing again.
The Saturday publication of the Daily News followed Friday's court ruling that the refusal by a government-appointed commission to grant the paper a license to operate was wrong. The court said the commission was biased and could not issue registration certificates.
The police, however, moved swiftly to ensure the publisher of the paper would not be allowed, as they put it, to continue breaking the law. They arrested 18 staff members, who were working on the paper's Sunday edition, and later released them without charge.
The police are now targeting the directors of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, the publishers of Daily News. Washington Sansole, one of the directors, was arrested on Saturday. Four others, including Chief Executive Sam Sipepa Nkomo, surrendered to the police on Monday.
Authorities say that while the court has ordered the government to issue The Daily News a license by November 30, the paper has no right to publish until the license is obtained. However, Harare lawyer Jacob Mafume disagrees.
"Once the commission has been nullified, it means that the certificates that they issued were irregular, they had no authority to issue them," he said. "So, we are back to the situation where an application by the Daily News is pending, and when it is pending, the act allows it to operate for three months during the period when the application is being considered."
Besides accusing Associated Newspapers of disobeying a court order, the chairman of the discredited commission, Tafataona Mahoso, said his commission would appeal the decision, because, in his words, the court had misdirected itself in ways that are not just fundamental, but unprecedented.
The Daily News was shut down in September, and its offices were raided by the police who seized its equipment.
The newspaper, which was founded in 1999 as an alternative to the state-run media, has been battling the government in the courts ever since.