Shortwave radios, many distributed by NGOs, have been banned, preventing opposition messages from getting out
Police in Zimbabwe have announced a ban on the possession of shortwave radios, saying they are being used to communicate hate speech ahead of next month’s constitutional referendum and elections set to be held in July.
Wind-up, solar-powered radios sets have been distributed by NGOs to rural communities, where villagers have established listening clubs to tune in to popular independent stations such as Radio Voice of the People, Studio 7 and SW Radio Africa. The broadcasts are produced by exiled Zimbabwean journalists based in Europe and the US.
Zimbabwe has four state-controlled radio stations with a history of supporting President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. Two recently established independent stations are also perceived to be pro-Zanu-PF. There is demand among listeners, especially those supportive of the rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), for other viewpoints.
In the last elections, in 2008, many rural constituencies with access to independent broadcasts voted for the MDC formations led by Professor Welshman Ncube and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz) – a group comprising the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, the Federation of African Media Women of Zimbabwe and other groups advocating freedom of expression – has condemned the ban on radios.
Maz said: “Owning and distributing radio receivers is not illegal, and confiscating them is a gross violation of citizens’ rights to receive and impart ideas and information without interference, as enshrined in section 20 of the constitution.”
Urging the police to reverse the ban, Maz pointed out that it would deprive people of an important source of information ahead of two critical national events.
Crackdown on NGOs
In recent weeks, police have been conducting a crackdown on NGOs and human rights groups, raiding offices, confiscating files and arresting employees.
Targeted organisations include Zimbabwe Human Rights, whose executive director was arrested, along with two other employees, on charges of “forging and manufacturing” counterfeit certificates of voter registration. They were released on bail. Police raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, where they confiscated mobile phones and computer hard drives.
Following the last elections, the head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, Jestina Mukoko, was kidnapped and tortured after it emerged that her organisation had damning evidence on the use of rape and torture by security forces to intimidate Tsvangirai supporters.
The offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, an NGO that campaigns for democratic elections, were also searched by police.
The ministry of home affairs, responsible for the police, is headed by two co-ministers, one from Zanu-PF and the other from the MDC.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights criticised the three-party inclusive government for failing to prevent “a sustained and escalating assault on NGOs involved in civic education, human rights monitoring, public outreach and service provision – all of which are lawful endeavours”.
Although Mugabe has called for peaceful conduct during and after the referendum and national elections, violence continues to be reported across the country.
Last weekend, a 12-year-old boy died after the shelter he was sleeping in was set on fire during skirmishes between Zanu-PF and MDC supporters in Manicaland, 200km east of the capital, Harare. The house was petrol-bombed by people believing that the boy’s father, a candidate for Tsvangirai’s party in the upcoming elections, was sleeping inside.