Harare - Zimbabwe police were by late last night still holding three journalists of the private Voice of the People (VOP) broadcasting company as "ransom" until the director of the company hands himself over to the law enforcement agency, according to the journalists' lawyer. The journalists, Maria Nyanyiwa, Nyasha Bosha and Kundai Mugwanda were arrested earlier on Thursday when police and officials of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) raided the VOP offices in Harare. They are being held at Harare Central police station and are most likely to spend the weekend at the station known for its filthy cells. In an urgent application to the High Court on Friday seeking the journalists' release, their lawyer, Jacob Mafume, said the police had told him that they would not free his clients until VOP director David Masunda turns himself in. "The respondents (police) are holding the applicants as ransom as they have already stated in no uncertain terms that they will only release them after their director hands himself over to the police," Mafume said in a court affidavit. He added: "The respondents have thus acted and continue to act outside the law and look set to continue to do so."
Under the government's draconian Broadcasting Act, it is illegal for radio and television firms to broadcast from the country without first obtaining a licence from the BAZ. But VOP does not broadcast from Zimbabwe although it maintains offices and reporters in the country. The station broadcasts into the southern African country using a Radio Netherlands transmitter in the Indian ocean island of Madagascar. VOP, which was once bombed three years ago by unknown people, is one of several foreign-based radio stations set up by Zimbabwean broadcasters unable to broadcast from home because of the stringent conditions under the Broadcasting Act. The crackdown on VOP comes days after a vitriolic attack by government Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya against the privately-owned media which he accused of being paid by Western countries to tarnish the image of President Robert Mugabe and his government. Jokonya threatened to take unspecified but tough measures against the small but vibrant privately-owned media.