Even while Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) are preparing to challenge the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)'s 'unwarranted assault on freedom of expression and access to information' by purporting to ban the possession and distributing of short-wave radios, police have raided a community radio in Bulawayo, confiscated 180 solar and kinetic energy propelled radios and charged the Editor with smuggling the short-wave radio sets.
A fellow of the International Academy of Journalism based in Hamburg, Germany, Zenzele Ndebele's radio project, Radio Dialogue, has been denied a broadcasting licence, but he has been using innovative methods to reach Bulawayo and surrounding areas. Now he has been charged with smuggling under Section 182 of the Customs and Excise Act or alternatively with failure to produce a listeners' licence.
The community radio station aspires to broadcast to the community of Bulawayo and its surrounding areas, providing a channel to debate and discuss current political, social, cultural and economic issues affecting the community, according to their website.
ZLHR say in terms of Section 20 (i) of the Constitution every Zimbabwean is entitled to receive and impart information without any hindrance and the use of common technology such as radio, television or mobile phone is protected by law.
But police, without guidance from any Minister, claimed a week ago to ban radios in a move which Zimbabweans saw as State institutions and actors denying fundamental rights and freedoms outside the law and contemptuous of any diversity of opinion and information.
It is now clear to most Zimbabweans that the police are acting on behalf of Zanu (PF) ahead of the planned general election - banning independent news broadcasting so that Zimbabweans can rely for all their information on the partisan Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZTV) and the Herald and its sister newspapers in the Zimbabwe Newspapers stable.
ZRP Deputy Commissioner-General Innocent Matibiri - a relative of President Robert Mugabe who only joined the force in the 1990s, and was capapulted through the ranks without going through any of the stages that high ranking police officers have to go through, told a Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Defence and Home Affairs that 99 percent of NGO’s operating in Zimbabwe were Western sponsored and pushing for regime change.
Without producing any evidence of his research, he also said their presence in the country was a “cause for worry and a serious threat to national security”. Further he said, distribution of short-wave radio sets was being done by people and organisations with ignoble motives and who had stepped out of their constitutional mandate.
Police would confiscate the radio sets, said the senior policeman who was said to be so green in 2009 that he personally went to a police station to release a relative of Didymus Mutasa who had been arrested - which, for any other police officer, would have been a prosecutable offence.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an umbrella group for non-governmental organisations that are trying to protect human rights in Zimbabwe, said police from Hillside Police Station in Bulawayo, accompanied by Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and Criminal Investigations Department (CID) operatives, and armed with a search warrant which alleged “…possession of smuggled radio receivers,” raided Radio Dialogue and took Ndebele for questioning.
Police are said to have requested to see the supporting paperwork for the entry of the confiscated radios into the country and they are also said to be going door-to-door in Gandanzara, Ward 23 of Makoni South in Manicaland searching for radios and confiscating them.
Ndebele is represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights member Jonathan Tsvangirai and Kucaca Phulu of Phulu&Ncube Legal Practitioners.