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Harare Pursues New Offensive Against Dissenting Voices

Zimbabwean authorities are stepping up a crackdown on dissent, in the latest move raiding an unlicensed radio station called the Voice of the People, which broadcasts to the country on short wave from a Madagascar transmitter of Radio Netherlands.

Police and agents of the Central Intelligence Organization raided the offices of the Voice of the People, or VOP, and seized the station’s equipment. VOP’s studios were bombed in 2002 and its production facilities were destroyed. Then-information minister Jonathan Moyo, since fallen out with Harare, described VOP as “a terrorist group.”

The government has been arresting activists and seizing passports of members of the opposition or perceived sympathizers following a call by hardliners of the ruling ZANU-PF party for a crackdown on those considered hostile to President Robert Mugabe.

Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for ZImbabwe spoke with VOP editor Shorai Kariwa while Thursday’s raid on the radio station was still in progress.

Meanwhile, hopes that Information Mnister Tchaona Jokonya was moving to improve relations with the non-state media were dashed recently by Mr. Jokonya’s comments in a public meeting branding the private media as “weapons of mass destruction.”

The appointment of Mr.Jokonya, formerly Zimbabwe’s representative to the United Nations, was initially greeted with optimism. But he now seems to be taking up the cudgel against the independent media along lines similar to those pursued by Mr. Moyo, now member of parliament for Tsholotsho, in Matabeleland.

Reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe sought the perspective of Wilbert Mandinde, a legal coordinator for the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

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