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Zimbabwe's Highest Court Upholds Journalist Licenses - 2004-02-05

Zimbabwe's highest court has upheld a law requiring all journalists to be licensed by the government or face criminal charges.

The Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe challenged the law nearly two-years ago and lost. The group appealed the decision to the Supreme Court saying the law violates the constitution.

But Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and three other Supreme Court judges disagreed, saying the law does not violate the Zimbabwe constitution's guarantee of free speech.

Justice Chidyausiku said although the function of the press is important, the press is not above the law and can be required, in his words, to operate within a legal framework.

One judge dissented in the decision. He is believed to be Wilson Sandura, the only member of the Supreme Court who was appointed before the government's purge of the court in the past few years.

President Robert Mugabe introduced a batch of new press laws, called the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, shortly after he was re-elected in March of 2002.

The law says that any journalist who works without a license from the state-appointed Media and Information Commission can be prosecuted, and may face up to two years in prison if found guilty.

Dozens of journalists have been prosecuted under the Act, which has also been used to prevent publication of Zimbabwe's only major independent daily newspaper, the Daily News.

The newspaper has been fighting the law since it was first closed last September for not having a license. It won several court battles and finally police left its offices last month. The newspaper has since then published a small daily edition.

Daily News journalists reacted to Thursday's ruling with dismay, saying they now face possible prosecution if they continue working.