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World Press Groups Protest Harare's Move Against Newspaper Publisher

International media bodies have condemned attempts by Zimbabwe authorities to strip a prominent newspaper publisher of his Zimbabwean citizenship, which some have interpreted as a move toward forcing the closure of his Harare publications.

The International Press Institute, the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editor's Forum put out a statement Thursday accusing Harare of trying to silence dissenting voices through an attempt to strip Trevor Ncube of his citizenship.

Harare has accused Ncube, publisher of the South African-based Mail and Guardian, and of the Standard and Zimbabwe Independent papers in Harare, of breaching the country's citizenship laws by not renouncing his Zambian nationality. But Ncube, now challenging the state's position in Harare high court, said the claims are false as he was born in Zimbabwe and therefore entitled to his citizenship.

The International Press Institute's statement accused Harare of breaching "customary international law under article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," and said the move against Ncube was clearly another way of attacking the country's few remaining "forums for open and critical debate."

The World Association of Newspapers and the World Editor's Forum sent a joint letter to President Robert Mugabe and Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa calling for end to Ncube's "indefensible persecution." The organizations added that attempts to revoke Ncube's citizenship by not renewing his passport, thus barring him from the country, amounted to "a blatant and transparent attempt to close his newspapers."

The Media and Information Commission responded to reports in the regional press - including in Ncube's own Mail and Guardian - that it was moving to close his papers in Zimbabwe, saying it was "outraged by the campaign of disinformation."

The MIC, which forced the outspoken Daily News to cease publishing three years ago, issued a written statement saying it had no intention of closing the two papers.

The commission offered the assurance that the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act provides that owners and stakeholders of papers that began publishing as of December 31, 2002, could continue doing so even if they are foreigners.

Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe spoke with Ncube, who said that as the chief executive officer of the Mail and Guardian he is only responsible for its management, and does not oversee its news content.

Constitutional law lecturer Greg Linnington of the University of Zimbabwe said the government has scant legal basis to revoke Ncube's citizenship.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 For Zimbabwe...