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Zimbabwe Authorities Bar March By Journalists On Press Freedom Day

Zimbabwean police have refused to authorize journalists in Harare to march through the capital on Thursday in observation of World Press Freedom Day, according to Zimbabwe Union of Journalists President Matthew Takaona.

The journalists union and the Zimbabwe chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa condemned the police refusal to authorize the march to the offices of the Media and Information Commission to present a petition for increased press freedom.

He said the journalists intended to ask MIC Chairman Tafataona Mahoso to improve the working environment for the news media, and to repeal restrictive legislation - in particular the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, or AIPPA.

Correspondent Irwin Chifera of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported from Harare.

In Washington, former Daily News editor Geoffrey Nyarota told a conference on press freedom Tuesday that the suppression of the liberty of the press in Zimbabwe is the worst it's been since the country gained independence from colonial rule in 1980.

Nyarota told delegates that state harassment, arrest, torture and even deadly force against journalists has been rising since a government crackdown began in March.

Nyarota was at the helm of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday when the Media and Information Commission refused to license its journalists, effectively shutting down the newspapers which were critical of the government.

The Washington conference was co-sponsored by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors and Freedom House, an independent non-governmental organization that has supported the expansion of freedom in the world since 1941.

In its 2007 report on press freedom worldwide, Freedom House said four out of five people worldwide live in countries where the press is not considered to be free or is only partly free, and only 18 percent of the world’s population enjoy a free press.

North Korea received the institute’s lowest ranking with a score of 97. Zimbabwe was in the bottom 10 with a score of 89, the same as Belarus and Equatorial Guinea.

Nyarota, now a visiting professor of political studies at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, told the Capitol Hill gathering that independent media in Zimbabwe must be supported to sustain the democratic process there.

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes said the increased pressure on U.S. ambassadors and foreign service members in countries where press freedom is restricted is a gauge of how governments respond to media criticism.

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