Zimbabwe's Supreme Court is refusing to allow the country's only independent daily to resume publishing before elections on March 31. The paper was effectively banned 18 months ago. Zimbabwe's highest court also overturned lower court rulings that the government-appointed Media and Information Commission is incompetent.

The Daily News asked the Supreme Court to declare key sections of Zimbabwe's media laws unconstitutional. Its application was refused. The judgment means The Daily News cannot resume publication, because it does not have a license.

The Supreme Court decision allows the paper to re-apply for a license to publish, should it so choose, and the Media and Information Commission has 60 days to reverse its decision of September 2003 denying the paper a license.

Former Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who crafted Zimbabwe's tough media laws, described The Daily News as a threat to national security. The newspaper's printing press was later bombed.

Since he was expelled from the ruling ZANU-PF party, Mr. Moyo has defended his media laws as necessary, because of what he called an international conspiracy against Zimbabwe.

All The Daily News' computers, advertising files and materials were confiscated by the Zimbabwe Republic Police and many of its journalists were detained before it finally stopped publishing.

The newspaper was critical of President Robert Mugabe and his administration, and within months of its launch, was selling more copies than long-established government-controlled dailies.

Human-rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said the Supreme Court decision was expected, and the effect would be that Zimbabwe would not have an independent daily newspaper before the March 31 elections. She said any doubts about the legal standing of Zimbabwe's media commission were swept away by the Supreme Court judgment.

If journalists are caught working without accreditation from the media commission they can be sentenced to imprisonment for up to two years. Newspapers can be, and are, closed by police, if they attempt to publish without a license. A new weekly paper was closed weeks ago.

Sam Nkomo, chief executive of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, which owns The Daily News and its sister Sunday publication, says he is disappointed by the Supreme Court judgment. He said the Daily News would reapply for a license and for accreditation for its reporters, although most have left Zimbabwe.