6 December 1999
CPJ concerned about recent death threats against journalist
**Updates IFEX alerts of 30 November and 26 November 1999**
(CPJ/IFEX) - CPJ is deeply concerned about recent death threats against "Sunday Standard" reporter Ray Choto.
The threats began in November, shortly after Choto returned to Zimbabwe after collecting an international press freedom award in Canada, along with his colleague Mark Chavunduka, editor of the "Sunday Standard". On 21 November 1999, a package arrived at Choto's home in Harare, containing a teddy bear, two live bullets, and a note threatening him and his family. Two other independent journalists, Basildon Peta of the "Financial Gazette" and Ibbo Mandaza of the "Zimbabwe Mirror", received anonymous threats at around the same time.
Eight days later, an unsigned letter arrived at Choto's office, informing him that he was being trailed and detailing his precise movements on a certain day. Part of the letter reportedly read, "we nearly pulled the trigger, but you should thank the lady who came to speak to you." The letter also warned Choto that he was still being followed.
The most recent threat was against Choto's wife, Girlie. An anonymous letter addressed to her arrived at the Choto residence on the night of 1 December. The letter referred to an incident on 13 November, when unknown men in a car harassed Girlie on her way home.
CPJ has written to President Robert Mugabe on two previous occasions this year, on 23 January and 29 September, protesting the 12 January illegal detention and subsequent severe torture by government agents of both Choto and Mark Chavunduka. This brutal attack followed a report in the "Sunday Standard" newspaper that soldiers had plotted to remove Mugabe from power because of alleged economic mismanagement, and because of Zimbabwe's military involvement in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The two journalists were charged with publishing false information "likely to cause fear and despondency" under Section 50(2) of the widely discredited Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960 (see IFEX alerts). To date, CPJ has not received a reply to either of these letters.
While Choto and Chavunduka have challenged the validity of the law under which they have been charged, the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue. And the Supreme Court challenge is only one of several court cases filed since the two journalists were arrested. Others include civil and criminal charges against the police and military for wrongful arrest, detention, assault and torture. CPJ fears the recent death threats against Choto may be related to these court cases. (Chavunduka is currently in the USA.)
Send appeals to the president:
- reminding His Excellency of his government's responsibility to ensure that journalists may practice their profession without fear of reprisal or attack
- strongly urging His Excellency to ensure that these death threats are thoroughly and impartially investigated, and that the perpetrators are brought to justice, so that all journalists in Zimbabwe may work in safety
His Excellency President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Fax: +263 4 708 820
Please copy appeals to the source if possible.