Tough laws governing the media in Zimbabwe have ensured the country remains on an influential media watchdog list of places where freedom of the press is severely restricted.

The 2005 report by French-based Reporters Without Borders says freedom of the press simply does not exist in Zimbabwe. The report points to what it describes as "refinements in the art of persecution" to underscore the worsening situation of the independent media in Zimbabwe.

Under Zimbabwe's Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which became law in 2002, media and journalists must register with a government-appointed and controlled commission to operate.

Any journalist who works without the approval of what the report describes as a "government-run censorship office" risks two years in jail.

What were Zimbabwe's most widely read newspapers, The Daily News and its sister paper the Daily News on Sunday, remain shutdown despite court orders saying they should publish. The licensing body keeps denying them a license.

The papers were shut down in 2003 after the Supreme Court ruled that they had to be licensed before they could challenge the constitutionality of the Act. Three other papers have also had their licenses revoked.

Although there are still some independent publications the Reporters Without Borders report questions the existence of an opposition press. It also points out what it calls an increasing paranoia by the government of Zimbabwe that perceives the slightest criticism as proof the West is plotting against it.

The state enjoys an electronic media monopoly denying poor Zimbabweans who cannot afford a short-wave radio or afford satellite television an alternative source of information. The report alleges pro-government propaganda and fabricated journalism "are the norm" on state radio and television.

In 2004, the report says, 16 journalists were arrested while others were physically attacked or threatened. It points out "police and the judiciary ensure that dissenters live in terror or endure the constant battering of a relentless harassment."

Director Rashwheat Mkundu, of the regional media watchdog Media Institute of Southern Africa, says there has been a decline in the cases of abuse, but this is due to the fact that the government has shut down some publications reducing the numbers of active journalists. He also said people are being arrested for expressing themselves under other repressive legislation such as the Public Order and Security Act and a recently introduced law that threatens critics of the government with having their passports seized.