(CPJ/IFEX) - In a 1 May 2002 letter to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, CPJ condemned the arrests of Lloyd Mudiwa, Collin Chiwanza and Andrew Meldrum, three Harare-based, independent journalists.
Central Intelligence Division officers arrested Mudiwa and Chiwanza, both staff writers at the privately owned "Daily News", at their Harare office in the early morning hours of 30 April.
Meldrum, a U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe who covers the region for London's "The Guardian", was taken into custody at his Harare home at around 5:40 a.m. (local time) on 1 May.
All three reporters face charges of "abusing journalistic privileges" and "publishing false information" in connection with a 23 April story, later discovered to be inaccurate, stating that youths from the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party had beheaded an opposition supporter. Penalties for conviction under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act include up to two years in prison and fines of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,818).
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which provided the information to the journalists, initially claimed that a pro-government youth militia decapitated Brandina Tadyanemhandu in Mashonaland West Province. The MDC also alleged that the militiamen forced the victim's two daughters to watch the execution.
On 30 April, after fact-checking determined that the story was inaccurate, the "Daily News" published a front-page retraction of the story. The newspaper also ran an MDC statement accusing the alleged victim's husband of fabricating the story in order to extort money from the party. (According to several Zimbabwe analysts, the MDC often makes small financial contributions to victims of political violence.)
Before the "Daily News" retraction was published, Meldrum filed the information in the article to "The Guardian", which ran it on page 1 on 30 April. "The Guardian" has since issued a statement acknowledging that the story was inaccurate.
Despite the prompt, good faith efforts by both the "Daily News" and "The Guardian" to correct the inaccurate stories, all three journalists remain in detention.
Of particular concern is the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which was passed after President Mugabe's 15 March re-election. According to The Associated Press, seven independent journalists have been arrested since enforcement of this law began less than six weeks ago.
Although four of those journalists have been released, the continued imprisonment of Mudiwa, Chiwanza, and Meldrum is one of several disturbing signs of new government pressures on independent journalists.
In addition, CPJ is deeply concerned about a recent statement from Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who advised government-run companies against advertising in the "Daily News", the country's largest independent daily. Moyo stated that the government could not allow advertisers to "subsidize" the "destruction of Zimbabwe through outright lies published by 'Daily News'" (see IFEX alert of 30 April 2002).
Send appeals to the president:
- urging his government to refrain from its frequent use of criminal charges to detain journalists
- condemning such attacks on independent media
- calling on his government to free the three journalists currently imprisoned and to respect the right of journalists to report the news freely, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
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.