Authorities in Zimbabwe have stepped up their crackdown on independent news coverage in the country by raiding the production studios of a radio station and confiscating radios distributed by nongovernmental organizations, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police today, along with officers from the country's Central Intelligence Organization and Criminal Investigations Department, raided Ingwe Studios, a subsidiary of community station Radio Dialogue in the city of Bulawayo, and confiscated 180 radios. The agents said they had a search warrant to find smuggled radios, according to local journalists and news reports.
Police also detained Zenzele Ndebele, the outlet's production manager. Ndebele told CPJ he was ordered to return for more questioning on Saturday and that he had been accused of possessing smuggled radios. He will appear in court on Monday.
Police Spokesman Charity Charamba announced a ban on "specially designed radios" on February 19 and said officials suspected they were being used to communicate "hate speech" ahead of a constitutional referendum in March and general elections scheduled for July, according to news reports.
"We condemn the raid on Ingwe Studios, which is a clear escalation of the authorities' attempt to cut Zimbabweans off from independent news broadcasts," said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. "The banning and seizure of radio sets calls into question the legitimacy of the upcoming referendum and election, which cannot be deemed to be free and fair if they are held under a news blackout."
NGOs have distributed hand-cranked and solar-powered radios in Zimbabwe since 2005, but the ruling Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)-led government has a pattern of cracking down on such devices ahead of election cycles in an effort to limit news coverage, according to local journalists.