JOHANNESBURG, Feb. 26 -- The Zimbabwean government has ordered the Weekly Times, an independent publication less than two months old, to close, making it the third newspaper shuttered in the past 18 months under the country's strict media laws.
With national parliamentary elections less than five weeks away, the Zimbabwe Media and Information Commission accused the paper of violating its operating license, in which the paper promised evenhanded and objective reporting in the interest of societal good. The government ordered the paper closed on Friday.
The media commission's chairman, Tafataona Mahoso, said the newspaper had produced coverage whose "core values, convictions and overall thrust were narrowly political, clearly partisan and even separatist, in contrast to what had been pledged," according to an article announcing the paper's closing on the front page of the state-controlled Herald newspaper in Harare, the capital.
The Weekly Times license was revoked for one year. Editor Diggs Dube said the paper would go to court Monday to seek to overturn the ruling. The paper, which began publishing Jan. 2 and had a circulation of nearly 15,000, was based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city.
Dube called the closure of his paper "politically motivated" and said it was intended to stifle debate in advance of the March 31 elections. "There's absolutely no freedom of the press" in Zimbabwe, Dube said.
The newspaper's closure came days after three Zimbabwean journalists who worked for U.S. and British news organizations fled the country following police raids on their offices. The journalists worked for the Associated Press, the Times of London and Bloomberg News.
The final issue of the Weekly Times carried a front-page story about the disappearance of valuable timber-processing equipment from a government depot. Inside the paper were a number of stories and opinion pieces, several offering pointed criticism of the government. In a full-page advertisement, an activist group called the National Constitutional Assembly denounced the coming elections as a "fraudulent" exercise that will "neither be free nor fair."
The government of President Robert Mugabe owns the country's three daily newspapers. Members of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, say the government newspapers refuse to publish even paid political advertisements. The government also controls all television and radio stations.
A few independent weeklies continue to publish, but the relatively high price of the newspapers, about $1.50 per copy in a country struggling from five years of hunger and steep economic decline, limits their circulation. The government newspapers cost about 50 cents per copy, a price that the Weekly Times roughly matched.