NewsDay is one of the new, privately owned newspapers that President Robert Mugabe has permitted to print in the past year, but the government has refused to allow more press freedom.
Credit: Desmond Kwande

Zimbabwe's new media crackdown continues.

Zimbabwe police detained a leading media rights activist on Tuesday.  

Andy Moyse, director of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ), was arrested at his Harare office on charges of distributing subversive material, a day after the detention of two other MMPZ staffers in southern Zimbabwe under the country's tough security laws, according to Reuters.

The police searched the MMPZ offices for "material which comprises of DVDs containing Gukurahundi information", according to a media monitoring project. Gukurahundi refers to the 1980s military crackdown in Zimbabwe's southern Matabeleleland and Midlands provinces when human rights groups say some 20,000 people were killed.

"In terms of the search warrant, the police purport that they have reasonable grounds to believe that MMPZ officers may have acted in breach (of the law) ... that is, 'publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state'," said the Media Monitoring Project in a statement.

The group said police seized DVDs calling on the media to contribute to peaceful elections through fair, accurate and balanced coverage of campaigns by political parties. Apparently the Mugabe government considers encouraging the media to promote free and fair elections is subversive. 

Zimbabwean police and the information ministry did not comment.

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Moyse has worked as a journalist in Zimbabwe for many years. Moyse's Media Monitoring Project he has studied the role of Zimbabwe's media. The detention of Moyse follows the arrests of four journalists from Zimbabwe's major private newspaper groups who have been charged with criminal defamation of senior ZANU-PF officials and associates.

The wave of arrests effectively freezes the "Harare Spring," in which the Mugabe government briefly relaxed its hold on the media. The coalition unity government which brought together President Robert Mugabe and rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in 2009 opened up licences for private newspapers. But Mugabe has blocked further reforms and refused to license private broadcasters who are not aligned to his ruling Zanu-PF party.

It appears Mugabe is tightening his control of the media in preparation for general elections in 2012. Mugabe, 87, and in power since independence and majority rule in 1980, says he wants to call elections next year to end the power sharing government that he was forced into after disputed polls in 2008.

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