Police in Zimbabwe issued an edict that critics say allows them to seize radios most people depend on to get their news.
On Tuesday, a police spokeswoman said it’s against the law to possess what she called illegal communication devices and «specially designed radios.» She accused unnamed groups of distributing the devices to spread hate speech and influence coming elections.
The warning follows raids this month in which police seized hundreds of multi-band radios from a lawmaker aligned with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party, and smaller numbers of radios from non-governmental organizations.
Zimbabwe’s co-home affairs minister, Theresa Makone, said that unless the devices in question are radio transmitters, not receivers, authorities should return the devices to their owners.
«Political parties and well-wishers are well within their rights to give radios to people who cannot afford them» she said Wednesday.
Journalists and pro-democracy activists say the police raids are aimed at suppressing free speech and access to information ahead of a referendum on a new constitution next month and national elections expected in July.
Many Zimbabweans depend on shortwave or medium-wave radios to hear news and viewpoints not offered by state-run media. State newspapers and broadcasters strongly favor President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party, as do the state security services.
ZANU-PF and the MDC are currently in a unity government formed after the violent and disputed 2008 elections.