Zimbabwe Passes Sweeping Media Laws

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(AP) Lawmakers in Zimbabwe passed new laws Thursday imposing sweeping media restrictions that critics say is aimed at silencing journalists ahead of March presidential elections.

The law was passed without a vote being called in the 150-seat Parliament, where ruling party members outnumbered opposition lawmakers.

The Parliament speaker announced debate on the bill was concluded, and when the opposition did not ask for a vote, the legislation was declared passed by assent. Parliament then adjourned until May 26.

The measures, which must still be signed into law by President Robert Mugabe, give the government broad powers to license journalists, register media organizations under strict terms laid down by the state, and impose severe penalties for infringements.

The main opposition has accused the government of including the media curbs in a package of repressive laws to muzzle criticism ahead of the March polls.

Welshman Ncube, opposition secretary general, said two series of amendments to the original proposed legislation watered down its terms.

“But freedom of expression is still being limited,” he said. “If we had our way, we should not have any regulations at all, but once you don’t have a majority in parliament you have to go with what you have.”

Crucial presidential elections are scheduled March 9-10. Mugabe, 77, is fighting for his political survival after nearly 22 years in power.

He is being challenged by Morgan Tsvangirai, 49, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose party narrowly lost parliamentary elections last year.

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