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Zimbabwean government spied on email of state-owned newspaper editors in August

Zimbabwean government spied on email of state-owned newspaper editors in August
Movement for change: Supporters of Zimbabwe's opposition party Movement For Democratic Change (MDC) chant party slogans at a rally in Masvingo, some 300 km (186 miles) south-east of of the capital Harare, October 19, 2008. Zimbabwe's opposition leader and Prime Minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai said he is expecting to finalise a power-sharing deal with President Robert Mugabe at a summit of the SADC Regional group in Swaziland last week. Photo: Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo

The Zimbabwean government had asked officials to spy on the emails of editors employed by the state-owned Zimpapers group from August 3-15 this year to gauge their loyal to President Robert Mugabe, Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) has reported.

“As a result of this illegal decision, editor Bhekinkosi Ncube of the magazine Umthunywa has been suspended for nearly two months and could lose his job altogether,” Paris-based RSF said on Monday.

“He is alleged to have insulted President Mugabe in an email sent from his private email address. The accusation is baseless and proves only that his personal email was monitored. We call for his reinstatement, the destruction of all the gathered data and an investigation into the government’s violation of the Interception of Communications Act.”

Ncube was suspended in August for publishing a photo of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) with the caption “Walile u Tsvangirai” (Tsvangirai refuses to sign). At the time, negotiations were under way between MDC and the ruling ZANU-PF for power sharing after ZANU-PF’s defeat in the March general elections.

During a hearing on the case on October 7 in Harare, Zimpapers CEO Justin Mutasa revealed that he had placed all of his editors under electronic surveillance to establish whether they supported ZANU-PF. He authorised the use of password-cracking software to hack into their private email accounts.

In an attempt to evade responsibility, Mutasa told the hearing that it was the information minister, not himself, who determined editorial policy for the Zimpapers group. The minutes of the hearing quote him as saying: “Every incoming minister calls all the editors and expounds to them what he expects from them. Editors must comply.”

The Zimbabwean Broadcast Corporation’s CEO, Henry Muradzikwa, and seven of its journalists were fired in May for not supporting Mugabe and ZANU-PF sufficiently during the election campaign.

Zimpapers is 51 per cent owned by the Mass Media Trust, which was set up by the government in 1980. The country’s biggest print media group, it consists of six newspapers. One of them, the Herald, has a circulation of 45,000 and is Zimbabwe’s most widely-read daily.

Adopted in August 2007, the Interception of Communication Act allows the government to tap phone calls and monitor email and fax communications in order to “guarantee national security” but does not authorise hacking into private email correspondence without a warrant.

Zimbabwe was ranked 151st out of 173 countries in the 2008 press freedom index which RSF released last week. Journalism continues to be a dangerous and frustrating profession in Zimbabwe and journalists are constantly harassed by the police and courts.

Date posted: October 28, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 336