Reporters Without Borders today urged the Zimbabwean authorities to drop charges against 14 people who were arrested for circulating an e-mail message criticising President Mugabe's economic policies and calling for his departure. They were all released on bail but have been ordered to appear in court on 26 November.
"Robert Mugabe has already gagged the traditional news media and we must now speak out so that the Internet does not meet the same fate," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "The Zimbabwean opposition is increasingly using the Internet to distribute information criticising the regime and this right must not be denied them," he added.
The Herald, a government-controlled daily, said those detained were released after paying bail of 50,000 Zimbabwean dollars (10 US dollars). The e-mail message encouraged Zimbabweans to stage violent demonstrations and strikes to force President Mugabe to stand down, the newspaper said.
This is the first time the authorities have used a law passed last year by the parliament allowing them to intercept e-mail. An employee with a Zimbabwean Internet service provider told the BBC that no system for monitoring e-mail has yet been installed. The police therefore intervened after receiving a copy of the message.
The Zimbabwean news media use the Internet to get round government censorship. After the Daily News was banned in October, its editors decided to continue publishing on a website hosted in neighbouring South Africa. The Insider, a newspaper that has declared its intention of providing independent news, is publishing online since September to avoid the prohibitive cost of a paper edition.