A senior Zimbabwe police officer Monday vowed to crush broadcasts from the Voice of America saying its Zimbabwe flagship program, Studio 7, is beaming into the country illegally.
Deputy commissioner-general responsible for operations, Innocent Matibiri, told parliament’s Home Affairs portfolio committee the police will continue to confiscate radio receivers from listeners and non-governmental organizations that have been distributing shortwave radios in the country.
The police have been targeting independent groups that have been distributing shortwave radios and confiscating them claiming they are communication gadgets being used to destabilize the country ahead of crucial elections and the constitutional referendum.
Asked why the police would confiscate radios that were donated to communities, Matibiri said: “I have made myself very clear as to why we confiscate some of the gadgets and it’s not only the radios that we have confiscated. We have confiscated so many things with ZIMRA (Zimbabwe Revenue Authority) if we are not satisfied with the manner in which the gadgets have been getting into our country.
"It would be laxity on our part if we just see things being donated, being distributed, some unusual kind of generosity taking place,” he said.
He questioned the generosity of those distributing the radios and what he chose to call communication gadgets.
“By the way, we have been told again and again that there is Studio 7 and so on and so forth and that according to the agreement that was signed between the principles its unlawful and when you distribute gadgets in order to facilitate something that is unlawful, don’t expect that the security forces will fold their arms,” Matibiri said.
When told that drivers can easily access Studio 7 in their cars, Matibiri said the police were concerned with the manner in which the shortwave radios were getting into the country and nothing more.
Reacting to the police commissioner's remarks, VOA Africa Division Director Gwen Dillard said: "Free access to information is a universal right. Studio 7, produced by the Voice of America, provides accurate, objective and comprehensive news to the people of Zimbabwe."
Article 19 of the Global Political Agreement of 2008 states that all Zimbabwean nationals, including those currently working for or running external radio stations, be encouraged to make applications for broadcasting licenses, in Zimbabwe, in terms of the law.
Unity government principals agreed to “call upon the governments that are hosting and or funding external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe to cease such hosting and funding; and encourage the Zimbabweans running or working for external radio stations broadcasting into Zimbabwe to return to Zimbabwe”.
Meanwhile, Matibiri told the committee that the Zimbabwe Republic Police is ready for the constitutional referendum and elections expected later in the year.
He said an elections command center is already in place to manage the two national events.
Matibiri said the police have been preparing for the elections and referendum since 2010. The referendum has been slated for March 16.