Police in Zimbabwe on Tuesday, 19 February, 2013 banned the possession of "specially designed radios" and other communication devices on suspicion they are being used to communicate hate speech ahead of Zimbabwe's March referendum and general elections.
Police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, told a news conference in Harare that possession and distribution of the devices in question was illegal.
She further accused some political parties of distributing the 'illegal devices' to unsuspecting members of the public with the intention "to sow seeds of disharmony within the country especially now that the country is about to embark on the referendum and harmonised elections".
The ban against the "specially designed radios" and communication devices came in the wake of a police raid on the offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) offices in Harare and the southern town of Masvingo.
Although the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) is not certain as to the exact specifications of the "specially designed radios" referred to by Charamba, these, however, could be transistor or portable radios being distributed to enhance citizens' right to access to information especially in remote areas that do not have access to mainstream media.
MISA-Zimbabwe notes with grave concern the recent move by police to confiscate "communication devices" from the public, which devices according to the State-owned newspaper, The Herald, of Wednesday, 20 February 2013, includes radio sets.
Of particular concern to MISA-Zimbabwe is the lack of clarity on what exactly these "communications devices" that were confiscated were, as well as the lack of clarity on what basis the radio sets or their distribution is also deemed illegal.
MISA-Zimbabwe calls upon the police to specifically state the exact nature of the illegal devices and the relevant laws that criminalise their possession as opposed to arbitrary actions that infringe on constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
It is not clear as yet, on what basis possession of devices such as radios meant to receive broadcasting services can be deemed illegal as a reading of section 38B of the Broadcasting Services Act states that one is not prohibited from possession of a receiver as long as it is in accordance with the terms and conditions of a listener's licence as issued by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
The importance of a radio set cannot be over-emphasised as it is a generally affordable gadget used for receiving information by the public. The right to receive and impart information and ideas is enshrined in Section 20 of the current constitution as a vital component of citizens' right to freedom of expression.
This same right is also enshrined in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights of which Zimbabwe is party to.
Access to information is a fundamental part of freedom of expression, which will assist citizens in making informed decisions and choices during the referendum and the forthcoming elections.
It is therefore critical that the police in their efforts to maintain law and order should not unilaterally infringe the public's right to information, especially as the country heads for the referendum and elections.
(Source: Press Release via Media Institute of Southern Africa via allAfrica.com)