(MISA/IFEX) - Geoffrey Nyarota, editor-in-chief of the private daily newspaper "The Daily News", was arrested on Monday 20 May 2002 on allegations of publishing "falsehoods" and thereby breaching provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Nyarota was arrested by police officers at around 10:00 a.m. (local time) at the offices of "The Daily News". He was released five hours later. The editor was arrested in connection with a story published in the 23 April edition of "The Daily News" that said two young girls had witnessed the decapitation of their mother by alleged supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party in Magunje, province of Mashonaland West.
Nyarota's lawyer, Lawrence Chibwe of Stumbles and Rowe, told MISA-Zimbabwe that the editor was arrested and charged under Section 80 (1b) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, for authorising the publication of "falsehoods" without verifying the facts.
Chibwe was not sure when Nyarota would be tried but said the police were going to proceed by way of summons once they had completed their investigation.
The arrests of journalists Nyarota, Lloyd Mudiwa, Collin Chiwanza and Andrew Meldrum, a correspondent for the British newspaper "The Guardian", followed the publication of a 23 April article in "The Daily News".
A magistrate court in Harare ruled on 7 May that Mudiwa and Meldrum have a case to answer. The two journalists were remanded out of custody to 22 May. Charges against Chiwanza were dropped.
In a front-page story on 27 April, "The Daily News" apologised to the ruling party and to the government, after it was revealed that the husband of the victim had misled the newspaper.
The apology is in line with the requirements of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which states that a publication must issue a retraction and apology in the event of its story being proven wrong. However, the police went on to arrest several journalists despite the apology. The journalists have also argued that they had not intended to lie but rather were genuinely misled.
The new media law places stringent measures on the media. If convicted, journalists face a fine of Z$100,000 (approx. US$1,800), up to two years in jail or both.