The Daily News, Zimbabwe's only independent daily and a fierce critic of the government, has been locked in battle with the authorities since September, when the Supreme Court ruled that the paper was illegal because it was not licensed under tough media laws passed by President Robert Mugabe.
The paper subsequently applied for a licence, but the application was rejected and the four directors, who also own the paper, took their case to the Administrative Court.
That court ruled in October that the paper be licenced, and the Daily News returned to the newsstands, only to be shut down again amid a wave of arrests of the staff and directors.
The four directors had gone to the magistrates court in Harare yesterday to have the charges against them quashed.
But Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said: "I am of the view that clearly there is a reasonable suspicion that an offence was committed ... (and) it is proper that the accused be placed on remand".
The four directors - Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, Rachel Kupara, Brian Mutsau and Stuart Mattinson - are due to return to the same court for a new hearing on February 6, 2004.
Guvamombe said his decision to have the four face trial was in part based on their misinterpretation of the Administrative Court's decision of October 24, which ordered that the Daily News must be licensed by the end of November.
"It is a suspensive order that if by the 30th of November 2003 ANZ (Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe) is not registered by the responsible body, it is deemed registered.
"It is therefore, in my view, incorrect to say that the ANZ was registered by the Administrative Court," he said.
The state-appointed media commission, which issues licences to media houses and journalists has appealed against the Administrative Court order.
Gugulethu Moyo, the Daily News legal adviser said she had filed an urgent court application to have the Administrative Court judgement enforced.
"We want to enjoy the fruits of that decision before the appeal is determined because we are aware that it could take some time before that (Supreme Court) appeal is determined.
"If the appeal comes out in our favour we would have suffered a great deal of damage by waiting," she told journalists.
Daily News Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she would mount a challenge in the constitutional court against the magistrate's decision to place the four on remand as well as against the legality of the law under which they are being charged. She plans to file the application in a week.
"We are arguing that the section under AIPPA (the media law) on which they have been charged is unconstitutional," said Mtetwa.
In January this year the Daily News petitioned the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of sections of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).
No decision has yet been made on that challenge to the law: the Supreme Court ordered the paper to register with the government-appointed media commission before it could challenge the law.
The arrest of the four Harare directors followed that of a co-director, Washington Sansole, in the second city of Bulawayo.
He was released following a High Court order.
Some 18 Daily News workers, including journalists, were arrested shortly after the paper hit the streets on October 25, but they were later released without charge. – Sapa-AFP.