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    A Times Editorial

    Corrupt rule in Zimbabwe

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 28, 2002

    Robert Mugabe, the increasingly tyrannical president of Zimbabwe, has taken a prosperous, thriving African country and turned it to ruin. Where once Zimbabwe exported agricultural products from some of the world's richest land, the nation now faces severe food shortages and soaring unemployment.

    Mugabe is about to face an election he would surely lose if it were conducted freely and fairly. But Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, has no intention of giving up the presidency. To ensure victory in the March elections, he is escalating his campaign of intimidation and violence. Thugs have been dispatched to beat and murder opposition leaders, and he is attempting to silence the press by arresting and threatening journalists who have criticized his regime. Meanwhile, Mugabe continues to try to create a diversionary issue by encouraging vigilante gangs that are violently seizing land owned by white farmers.

    As the election draws near, more extreme tactics are being adopted under the guise of officialdom. Parliament recently passed a bill that would make it a crime to publish statements "undermining the authority of or insulting" the president. It is awaiting Mugabe's signature.

    Denunciation of journalists as disloyal and defamatory has become routine for government officials. Recently, eight journalists, mostly from foreign press outlets including the Associated Press, were accused of "the obscene misrepresentation of the facts," and labeled "terrorists."

    The accusations were made as legislation was introduced that would muzzle the foreign press and bring the domestic media under direct government control. As initially proposed, the legislation would have barred all foreign journalists from working within the country. Only citizens of Zimbabwe would be accredited by the state to hold media-related jobs. Persistent international pressure has waylaid the bill, and the country's justice minister agreed to some amendments. But tinkering around the edges will not salvage a bill that is designed to keep the world from knowing of Mugabe's corrupt rule and the economic disintegration of his country.

    When the foreign press is expelled and the domestic press put under government control, a nation can no longer claim to be free and democratic. Without the accountability that comes from objective and independent reporting, the coming elections will be a sham.

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