Three free radio journalists detained in Zimbabwe crackdown

Police and security agents arrested three journalists during a raid on a private radio station, their lawyer said Friday. Documents and production equipment were also seized during Thursday's raid at the Voice of the People, part of a crackdown against President Robert Mugabe's critics. The journalists, Maria Nyaniwa, Nyasha Bosha and Kundai Mugwanda, remained in custody Friday at Harare's main police station, according to their lawyer, Otto Saki.

He said they would likely be charged with operating a broadcast service without a government license and working as journalists without accreditation, offenses punishable by a fine or jail term under the southern African country's sweeping media laws. No licenses have been issued for private broadcasters in Zimbabwe, where the government controls the sole authorized radio and television station. But at least three private radio stations beam programs into the country using shortwave transmitters based beyond its borders.

The government has repeatedly tried to jam their signals. In August 2002, the Voice of the People offices were destroyed in a nighttime bombing. No arrests have been made in connection with the attack. The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned Thursday's arrests. "Zimbabwean authorities continue to show an utter intolerance toward anyone challenging the state's monopoly on news and opinion," said the group's executive director, Ann Cooper.

Mugabe's government has sought to curb its critics as it confronts the worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1980, blamed largely on the seizure of thousands of white-owned commercial farms for redistribution to black Zimbabweans. Scores of journalists have been harassed, assaulted and arrested, many of them held over weekends until courts open on Monday. The government has also shut down a number of independent newspapers.

Last week, authorities started confiscating the passports of prominent critics, including an independent publisher, opposition spokesman and labor leader, as they landed at imbabwe airports. Authorities acted on a recent constitutional amendment empowering the government to deny travel documents to its citizens. But they were forced to return at least two of the passports after a court ruled Monday that no specific laws exist allowing them to do this, reports the AP. N.U.

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