In a preemptive strike against free elections, Zimbabwe radios are banned including all shortwaves
Democracy, elections and voting at Democracy Chronicles
By Leah Dearborn
On Monday Feb. 25th, police in Zimbabwe banned the possession and distribution of shortwave radios amongst the general populace. The Zimbabwean Patriot quoted police chief spokesman Charity Charamba at a press conference, calling the radios “gadgets…to promote hate speech against certain political parties.” The Committee To Protect Journalists reports:
NGOs have distributed hand-cranked and solar-powered radios in Zimbabwe since 2005, but the ruling Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF)-led government has a pattern of cracking down on such devices ahead of election cycles, according to local journalists. The crackdown is a fear tactic used against independent organizations critical of President Robert Mugabe ahead of the constitutional referendum scheduled in March and the general elections scheduled for July, the journalists said. In recent weeks, police raids on the offices of independent NGOs and political violence against the opposition have heightened tension, according to news reports.
“The confiscation of these radios shows to what lengths the Zimbabwean authorities will go to try to keep their citizens in the dark,” said CPJ’s Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita from New York. “Zimbabweans have a right to a wide variety of information, especially ahead of elections. This ban must be lifted immediately.”
Since NGOs first began distributing radios, “listening clubs” formed in rural areas of the country where villagers could listen to independent news stations broadcast by political exiles and foreign media. According to the United Nations’ news and analysis service, police in the Midlands and Masvingo regions are conducting a door-to-door search for radios and arresting those found in violation of the ban. An article by the Zimbabwe Mail commented on a recent altercation regarding the radios between the Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) and current president Mugabe:
During the Cabinet session, MDC Regional Integration Minister Priscilla Mushonga presented Mugabe with a radio, the same kind of device that is being seized by police in a crackdown in the rural areas, as a belated birthday present. “I hope the police are also not going to arrest you for possessing that piece of furniture,” Mushonga said to Mugabe, who initially looked at the gadget as though wondering whether it was a genuine present.