Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is among Africa’s seven worst press freedom predators who regularly harass and persecute journalists, media rights group Reporters Without Borders or Reporters sans frontières (RSF) has said.

In statement released ahead of World Press Freedom Day tomorrow, the RSF said journalism in Zimbabwe remains a risky and dangerous operation despite formation more than two years ago of a unity government between Mugabe and pro-democracy Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The RSF said Mugabe has maintained a tight grip on the state-owned broadcasting and newspaper publishing empire, the most dominant in Zimbabwe, while making sure the make sure the small but vibrant privately-owned media are, “unable to express themselves freely.”

The RSF, a France-based non-governmental organisation campaigning for freedom of the Press, also mentioned unconfirmed reports that some state editors have been “placed under electronic surveillance to check their loyalty to the (ZANU PF) party of Mugabe.

“Despite being hailed as a “liberator” when he came to power in the 1980s, Mugabe has no problem with the arbitrary arrests and harassment to which most of the country’s journalists are exposed,” the group said, adding that Mugabe has stepped curtailment on free speech as he prepares for the next elections whose date is yet to be set.

Other top African press freedom violators on the RSF list are Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Rwandan President Paul Kagamé, Swaziland’s King Mswati III and Somalia’s Islamist militias (Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam).

Others outside Africa named as press freedom violators include the leaders of North Korea, China, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

While Zimbabwe’s coalition government has implemented some of the media reforms agreed in a power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai it has avoided instituting far-reaching measures that would drastically open up the country’s media space.

The reforms instituted so far include the establishment of the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and the licensing of at least nine private newspapers to compete with the state-run titles that have dominated the country’s media landscape since 2003.

But Mugabe’s allies in the Ministry of Information that oversees the media have continued to hold back reforms especially in the key broadcasting sector.

More than a year after the coalition government was formed, the government broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) still dominates the country’s media.

The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe has refused to license private television or radio stations, forcing several radio stations to broadcast into Zimbabwe from Europe or United States.

It however allowed the ZBC to launch a second television channel last May underlining its dominance of the airwaves.

The Information Ministry that is controlled by Mugabe loyalist Webster Shamu and the President’s influential press secretary George Charamba has also held on to the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and other laws that restrict media freedom.

The AIPPA requires journalists and media houses to register with the government and also criminalises the publication of “falsehoods”. The law has been solely used to harass and arrest journalists working for the private media or state media reporters who fail to toe the line.