By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
HARARE, Zimbabwe – On Tuesday, the Zimbabwean police announced that the government is banning the possession of “specially designed radios” and similar communication devices.
According to sources, the ban applies to devices such as small radio receivers and smart phones that tune into stations not linked to the country’s state broadcaster.
According to the police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and political parties are using these devices to spread “hate speech” against the administration that might influence the March referendum and elections this year.
“[These groups] have the intention to sow seeds of disharmony within the country especially now that the country is about to embark on the referendum and harmonized elections,” Charamba told journalists during last week’s press conference.
Media watchdog Misa-Zimbabwe condemned the ban, challenging its legality.
“It is an illegal ban to start with. There is no law which proscribes ownership and distribution of the receivers in the country,” asserted Misa-Zimbabwe director Nhlanhla Ngwenya.
Ngwenya described the prohibition as an “act of cowardice by people who feel threatened by the free flow of information.” He also suggested that it is the government’s way of blocking news and information from radio stations who have openly criticized the President and his administration.
Furthermore, Ngwenya said that the law was vague because it failed to specify which “communications devices” are banned and on what basis are they or their distribution deemed illegal.
“It is not clear as yet, on what basis possession of devices such as radios meant to receive broadcasting services can be deemed illegal. A reading of Section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act states that one is not prohibited from possession of a receiver as long as it is in accordance with the terms and conditions of a listener’s license as issued by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC),” Ngwenya explained.
“The importance of a radio set cannot be over-emphasised as it is a generally affordable gadget used for receiving information by the public. The right to receive and impart information and ideas is enshrined in Section 20 of the current constitution as a vital component of citizens’ right to freedom of expression,” he added.
Finally, Ngwenya said that Misa-Zimbabwe is currently working with other civil society groups to urge the government to repeal the prohibition. One of these groups, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), indicated its intention to assail the law’s constitutionality in court.
“The lengths to which State institutions and actors are now going to deny fundamental rights and freedoms and act outside the law is alarming, but is typical of paranoid State authorities who are contemptuous of any diversity of opinion and information,” stated ZLHR in a recent press release.
For further information, please see:
All Africa – Zimbabwe: Ban On Radio Receivers Sparks Outcry – 24 February 2013
New Zimbabwe – Media groups slam police radio crackdown – 24 February 2013
Sunday Monitor – Zimbabwe police ban radios – 24 February 2013
The Zimbabwean – Media Alliance Zimbabwe condemns radio sets ban – 23 February 2013
News Day – Police under fire over radios – 21 February 2013