Press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders has added the
Zimbabwean government to its list of Internet Enemies following
Harare's enactment of a law to allow the interception of internet and
telephonic communication, writes Torby Muturikwa.

In August 2007, President Robert Mugabe signed into law the Interception and Communications Act to allow security agents and Communications and Transport minister to intercept mail and telephone conversations.

The law requires all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to buy and install equipment to enable the monitoring of private e-mails. The ISPs are obliged to hand the material over to security agents.

In an international report that has just been released, the Paris-based group said it had added Zimbabwe and Ethiopia to its list following consistent and systematic violations of freedom of the press.

“Our list of Internet Enemies has also been updated with the addition of two countries – Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. And we are offering a new version of our Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents.”

"There are 15 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders list of ‘Internet Enemies’ – Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. There were only 13 in 2007. The two new additions to the traditional censors are both to be found in sub-Saharan Africa: Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.

“This is not at all surprising as these regimes regularly hound the traditional media,” Reporters Without Borders says in the introduction to its report. “Internet penetration is very slight, but nevertheless sufficient to give them a few nightmares. They follow the example of their seniors and draw on the full arsenal of online censorship methods including legislation, monitoring Internet cafés and controlling ISPs.”

Zimbabwe is listed among the worst countries to practise journalism. The Committee to Protect Journalists last month urged the African Union to rein in Mugabe following a damning report which was released in New York and presented in Ethiopia during an AU meeting.

Several newspapers have been banned and dozens of journalists assaulted and harassed by police since Zimbabwe enacted media laws in 2002.

Against a background of censorship, Reporters Without Borders denounced government censorship of the Internet and held online protests on 12 and 13 March where it urged internet users to demonstrate against the enemies of the net.

The watchdog said it had placed several countries under watch, including Bahrain, Eritrea, Gambia, Jordan, Libya, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

"Unlike the ‘enemies,’ these countries do not imprison bloggers or censor the Internet massively. But they are sorely tempted and abuses are common. Many of them have laws that they could use to gag the Internet if they wanted. And the judicial or political authorities often use anti-terrorism laws to identify and monitor government opponents and activists expressing themselves online.

“The hunting down of independent thinkers online is all the more effective as several major western companies have colluded with governments in pinpointing ‘trouble-makers."

Meanwhile, Zimbabwean journalist Brian Hungwe – former SABC correspondent – has appealed to the Supreme Court for an order to have the right to practice journalism after his High Court application was dismissed as not “urgent”.
He is fighting a decision by the Media and Information Commission (MIC), banned him from practising for a year. Justice Chitakunye has dismissed the application as not urgent, and he is now appealing this decision.