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Churches attack 'beast' Mugabe

Friday, September 26, 2003 Posted: 8:08 AM EDT (1208 GMT)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) -- Christian churches in Zimbabwe have demanded the repeal of oppressive media and security laws as nine reporters for the country's only independent daily were charged with violating the laws.

The reporters from The Daily News, which the government banned last Saturday, were charged Thursday with working for the paper without official accreditation from the state-appointed media commission, the Associated Newspapers group said.

Police said 45 of the paper's 60 journalists were sought for questioning on the same grounds and were also likely to be charged under the sweeping security and media laws, said Gugulethu Moyo, the group's corporate and legal adviser.

The laws were passed last year to stifle criticism of President Robert Mugabe's increasingly authoritarian government.

The churches, in a statement, likened Mugabe's government to "the beast in Revelation 13 which usurps power and terrorizes God's defenseless people thus fermenting anarchy and lawlessness in the land."

Clergy and pastors of the nation's 59 Christian denominations, representing about half the population who are Christians, said the government abandoned fundamental principles of protecting the common good of the people, upholding justice and the rule of law and of being "custodians of social and moral values."

"Any government that negates these principles forfeits its God-given mandate to rule. It therefore cannot demand submission and obedience of its citizens," the statement said.

The deepening economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe was marked by political violence, suppression of any form of opposition, rampant official corruption and economic mismanagement that impoverished the majority "while the rich get richer," the statement said.

It said the churches committed themselves to campaign for democratic and social reform that included the repeal of security and media laws.

The state media commission banned The Daily News on Saturday by denying it registration to publish under the strict media laws. Since its launch in 1999, the paper has given a voice to critics of Mugabe's 23-year rule.

The paper, with 300 employees and a daily readership of more than 940,000, has said it will challenge the ban in court.

On Monday, four Associated Newspapers directors were charged on allegations of violating the media laws before the official ban on Saturday. The offense carries a penalty of a maximum fine of 300,000 Zimbabwe dollars ($364 at the official exchange rate of 824-1) or two years in jail.

A coalition of pro-democracy and reform groups described the banning of The Daily News as the ruling party's "most serious attack yet on freedom of expression."

A crackdown on independent civic organizations and church and independent human rights groups was likely to intensify without an independent daily newspaper to report on it, said Brian Raftopoulos, a spokesman for the Crisis Coalition.

The Daily News has reported on government action to prohibit opposition political activities and clamp down on rights groups, labor groups, independent-minded judges and journalists during the country's worst economic and political crisis since independence from Britain in 1980.

In January 2001, The Daily News' presses were destroyed in a bomb attack hours after Information Minister Jonathan Moyo described the paper as "a threat to national security which had to be silenced."

Since 2000, more than 200 people have died and tens of thousands have been assaulted, tortured and hounded from their homes in political violence blamed mostly on ruling party militants, police, state security agents and troops.

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