Zimbabwe’s Co-Home Affairs Ministers responded Wednesday to a nationwide ban of communication devices by police saying they cannot confiscate radios unless they can prove that the radios are illegal transmitters, not simply receivers.
Minister Theresa Makone told VOA that she, along with co-minister Kembo Mohadi, met with Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri, and instructed him to halt confiscations.
The police announced Wednsday they were banning the possession of what they called “specially designed radios” and other unspecified communication devices in the country, saying NGOs and civil society groups are planning to use the devices to spread hate speech and influence the referendum and national elections.
Speaking at a Harare news conference Wednesday, police spokeswoman Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba said the possession and distribution of the devices in question was illegal.
Commissioner Charamba said plans by political parties and NGOs to distribute the radios was “intended to sow seeds of disharmony” among Zimbabweans as the country embarks on two major voting events this year.
While the commissioner did not specify what features the illegal devices have, critics said the radios that have been confiscated are simple receivers.
That is, they cannot send information. Only two-way radios can transmit information.
Zimbabwean law forbids radio transmissions without a license from the state media commission.
Others said the real targets of the ban are international channels, like the Voice of America’s Studio 7, that broadcast on shortwave.
In a country where most people still rely on radio to get most of their news everyday, many Zimbabweans condemned the police ban. Shortwave radios are especially critical in rural areas, where FM and medium wave broadcasts may not reach.
Earlier this month police confiscated more than 800 multiband radios from MDC-T Bindura South MP Bednock Nyaude. On Wedneday police searched the home of lawmaker Reggie Moyo of the MDC in Bulawayo, but came away empty handed.
Mr. Moyo said police did not find any military radio receivers, but three civilian receivers, which they did not confiscate. He labeled the incident as police harassment.
Pro-democracy and media advocacy groups expressed criticism over the police actions, which prompted co-home affairs ministers meeting with the police commissioner to, in Ms. Makone’s words, “clarify the police directive.”
Makone told VOA Studio 7 that a police officer may not confiscate the private property of a Zimbabwean including a simple radio receiver.
She said the police will need to return radio receivers already confiscated.
Makone further noted that in a lengthy discussion with Mohadi and Chihuri, they agreed the police commissioner would commission engineers to verify the type of radios being used by members of the public.
She stressed that if they are simple radios, they are to be immediately released.
Nhlanhla Ngwenya, director of the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, said the move by police may be a signal that the security elements in the government plan to bar Zimbabweans from their right to information as elections approach.