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Zimbabwe church leaders denounce state media control

Zimbabwe's seven Catholic bishops have strongly criticised state media control, while ecumenical Christian groups called for outright defiance of planned laws curbing charity work.

Independent Catholic News reports that the bishops sent a pastoral letter to churches on Sunday demanding a "credible electoral process" and peaceful campaigning ahead of March elections.

They warned against propaganda, favouritism and discrimination against dissenters, including the main opposition party. In a separate move also seen as a crackdown on dissent, the government proposed criminalising charity work done without a government permit, and banning charities and private groups focusing on "issues of human rights and good governance" from receiving foreign funding. The bill came before parliament yesterday.

"It is important that all political parties have access to media coverage so that they can inform citizens about how they intend to govern if they are elected," said the bishops.

Meanwhile the South African Council of Churches (SACC), in partnership with a number of organisations including the Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC), yesterday concluded a two-day conference on 'Minimum Standards for Elections in Zimbabwe. A Conference statement regretted the Zimbabwean Government's refusal to participate in the conference, but expressed hope that the Government will "introduce and implement comprehensive electoral reforms in strict conformity with the SADC Guidelines and Principles Governing Democratic Elections and the AU Electoral Standards".

In other news, Archbishop Pius Ncube of Bulawayo (pictured) has accused Mugabe of planning to use food to buy votes. The Christian groups urged Zimbabweans to reject them proposed bill, calling it a "vain attempt by the ruling party to usurp the place of God." "If what we do in obedience to our Christian calling makes us criminals in Zimbabwe, so be it," said a joint statement signed by the Bulawayo diocesan branch of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace and two inter-church bodies - Christians Together for Justice and Peace, and Solidarity Peace Trust.

Zimbabwe: church leaders denounce state media control (Independent Catholic News 5/10/04)
South African Civil Groups Commit To Pro-Active Engagement On Zimbabwe (Southern African Catholic Bishops' Conference 5/10/04)

Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference
Mugabe threatens new archbishop at installation (CathNews 24/8/04)Vatican dismisses critics of archbishop (Business Day 15/7/04)
Zimbabwe: politician attacks Archbishop Pius Ncube (Independent Catholic News 15/7/04)
South African cardinal calls for sanctions against Zimbabwe (CathNews 15/7/04)

6 Oct 2004