Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Zimbabwe Strips Publisher of Citizenship

At one time, Zimbabwe had a media industry that was vibrant and which showed potential of becoming a growth area. In addition to the state-owned broadcasting and newspaper publishing groups, the country also had privately-owned radio and television channels as well as privately-owned newspapers.

All the privately-owned radio and television channels have been closed down and it is now illegal to own or operate a radio or television broadcasting station in Zimbabwe.

Three of the privately-owned newspapers -- The Financial Gazette, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Mirror on Sunday -- have been taken over by the country's dreaded secret police, the Central Intelligence Organization. Five other titles -- The Daily News; The Daily News on Sunday, The Tribune and the Weekly Times -- have been shut down.

The two remaining privately-owned newspapers are now also being threatened with closure. The two newspapers, the Zimbabwe Independent and The Standard are owned by Trevor Ncube, who also publishes South Africa's Mail and Guardian.

In December 2005, Trevor Ncube made history when he become the first critic of the Zimbabwe government to be placed under virtual country arrest after security agents seized his passport. The move came in the wake of an amendment to the country's constitution to allow the government to restrict the right to freedom of movement by denying a passport to anyone wishing to travel outside the country "where it is feared or believed or known that the Zimbabwean in question will, during his or her travel, harm the national interest or defense interest or economic interest of the state."

The list of critics of the Zimbabwe government who were to have their passports withdrawn should they try to enter or leave the country included journalists Geoff Nyarota, Nqobile Nyathi, Lloyd Mudiwa, Basildon Peta, and Caroline Gombakomba.

Then, as now, Trevor Ncube believed the real reason why he had also been targeted in this way was because security agents, who he says now rule the country, wanted to silence him as well as to make him to leave the country illegally so that they could level criminal charges against him and take over his newspapers.

"They know I stand to lose a lot if I am unable to return to South Africa. They think I will leave the country illegally so they can have something to pin on me. Then they can specify me and my newspapers and that way take over my business," he said.

Trevor Ncube travels regularly between South Africa and Zimbabwe to run his newspapers.

"This is about a regime that wants to control the minds of people. They are basically saying that you can't speak out, because if you do, you lose your passport," he said at the time.

That December he got his passport back after a week because although the amended constitution now allows the Mugabe regime to seize passports from those it perceives to be acting against national interest, there is no corresponding piece of legislation which sets specific guidelines as to which offenses warrant the withdrawal of passports.

The new threat to the Zimbabwe Standard and the Independent comes after the country's registrar general, Tobaiwa Mudede, refused to renew Trevor Ncube's passport last month and went on to revoke his citizenship.

Under Zimbabwe's media laws, foreigners and non-resident Zimbabweans cannot own newspapers. They cannot be majority shareholders in media ventures.

Now, as in December 2005, Trevor Ncube is challenging this latest attempt in court.

According to a report in the state-owned Herald newspaper, in court documents submitted by Tobaiwa Mudede, the registrar general argues that Trevor Ncube is not a Zimbabwean citizen because he was born of a Zambian father and did not revoke his Zambian citizenship.

"His failure to comply with the requirement to renounce Zambian citizenship by descent within the prescribed period (July 6 to Jan. 6, 2002) automatically meant loss of Zimbabwean citizenship," Mudede said.

For his own part, Trevor Ncube maintains that his mother is Zimbabwean by birth and that although his father was born in Zambia, he had applied for and had received Zimbabwean citizenship by the time Trevor Ncube was born.

"I am not and have never been a citizen of a country other than Zimbabwe. I am not aware of any country that I have had connection with which provides for automatic citizenship for a person in my position," Ncube said.

According to The Herald, the court is yet to set a date for the hearing.

This article has also been featured on OhmyNews International.

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