A Zimbabwean judge today threw out a case against 10 staffers of an independent radio station charged with breaking the country’s tough audiovisual laws. Magistrate William Bhila turned down a request by state prosecutors for a further adjournment against the employees of the Voice of the People (VOP) radio station until November 9, saying: “This is becoming a circus. This matter has already been postponed three times. There is no reason to keep the accused on remand.”
Seven directors and three other VOP employees were arrested in December and January and briefly detained at Harare’s main police station, accused of possession and operation of transmission equipment without a licence. VOP is one of only two independent broadcasters which have managed to circumvent Zimbabwe’s repressive media laws by using transmitters outside the country to carry their programmes on shortwave. The other is UK-based SW Radio Africa.
Most of VOP’s programming is in the two main languages - Shona and Ndebele - placing it among the few independent media able to reach the large rural population who have no access to newspapers. Zimbabwe has four radio networks and one television station all controlled by the government.
Plainclothes police in December ransacked the radio station’s offices in central Harare, arresting staffers Maria Nyanyiwa, Takunda Chigwanda and Nyasha Bosha and held them in cells for four days.Under the strict broadcasting laws passed in 2001, radio stations are required to register with a government-appointed board. A breach of the laws attracts a financial penalty or a jail term of up two years.
VOP broadcasts into Zimbabwe on shortwave from a Radio Netherlands transmitter in Madagascar. Its offices in Harare were firebombed in August 2002