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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 22:27 GMT 23:27 UK
Zimbabwe private daily shut down
The Daily News offices in Harare
The paper insists part of the media law is unconstitutional
Police in Zimbabwe have shut down the offices of the country's only private newspaper, the Daily News, a day after a court ruled that it was operating illegally.

One of the newspaper's publishers, Francis Mdlongwa, said that staff had been ordered out of the building in the capital, Harare, and the paper closed.

Correspondents say it is not clear if the closure of the Daily News - which is highly critical of President Robert Mugabe - is intended to be permanent.

On Thursday, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court said that the newspaper was operating illegally because it had refused to register with the state Media and the Information Commission (MIC), as required by the county's tough media law.

This is an unprecedented attack on press freedom
Francis Mdlongwa, publisher
The court issued its ruling after the Daily News challenged a section of the law, arguing that such a requirement was unconstitutional.

The controversial law - the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act - was signed by President Mugabe last year.

Editor quizzed

About 20 police officers - some armed with rifles - arrived at the Daily News' office in central Harare on Friday evening, one of the newspaper's reporters told AFP news agency.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe signed the controversial law after his re-election

He said the police then went into the building and started ordering everyone out.

The police also took away the newspaper's editor Nqobile Nyathi and another member of staff, but they were later released without charge.

"The situation is that right now, we have been closed down," Mr Mdlongwa was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.

"This is an unprecedented attack on press freedom because after the court decision... we had made clear that we were going to comply with the law and register," he added.

Disobey

In January, Zimbabwe's Information Minister Jonathan Moyo accused the Daily News of deliberately flouting a properly constituted law and therefore being disrespectful to the judiciary and the parliament.

But the publishers of the Daily News - the Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ) - said the MIC had refused to accredit the journalists working for the newspaper.

During the anti-government protests in June 2003 the newspaper said it was time for the opposition leadership in Zimbabwe to directly send a message to the army and the police urging them to disobey what it described as an illegitimate government.

More than a dozen journalists have been charged under the media law, which President Mugabe signed soon after his re-election in 2002.

Among them were several Daily News reporters and correspondent for Britain's Guardian newspaper who was later deported.


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