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Harare court rejects media curbs

Harare, May 7 (Reuters): Zimbabwe’s highest court today struck down tough media legislation which made it an offence to publish “falsehoods”, after the government conceded the provisions were unconstitutional.

The provisions made the publication of “falsehoods” punishable by a heavy fine or a jail term of up to two years irrespective of the circumstances in which a story had been published.

The Supreme Court ruled that the provisions violated the constitution and were “therefore struck and down and...of no force and effect.”

Lawyers for President Robert Mugabe’s government had conceded the provisions violated constitutional protections of freedom of expression, and said the government was amending the law, which had been criticised by human rights advocates.

The law know as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act came into effect shortly after Mugabe’s controversial re-election in March 2002 which the opposition and Western governments said was marred by fraud.

The court ruled in response to an appeal by two Zimbabwean journalists who were charged last year with publishing a false story. They had reported that government supporters had beheaded a woman opposition member in front of her two young children. The story was later proved to be false, and the Daily News, which published the report, said it had been misled by the source.

Zimbabwean journalists have filed a number of cases with the Supreme Court challenging various provisions of the media laws, including one which bars foreigners from working permanently as journalists in the country.

Britain attack

Britain and Australia attacked Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe today saying there was no prospect of welcoming Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth until a return to democratic rule was under way.

Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Howard said they would work to exert maximum international pressure on Mugabe in order to change the political climate in Zimbabwe.

“Until a serious attempt at returning to democratic rule is made there can be no question of Zimbabwe... being readmitted to the councils of the Commonwealth,” Australia’s Howard told reporters in Blair’s Downing Street home after bilateral talks.

Blair added: “There are no grounds as far as we can see for saying that there has been any significant progress at all, indeed if anything the situation has got worse.

“That means we have got to keep up maximum international pressure on the regime.”

The Commonwealth group of mainly former British colonies suspended Zimbabwe from its midst for a year in March 2002 and has since extended that ban until at least next December.

The 54-nation body acted after observers said Zimbabwean elections were flawed and in protest at Mugabe’s policy of seizing white-owned farms for redistribution to landless Blacks. “The suffering of the people, both Black and White, is inexcusable and appalling and a terrible indictment of somebody who has lost any pretence of governing for the welfare of the people of that country,” Howard said.

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