The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the continuing harassment of independent journalists in Zimbabwe.
On June 2, Shorai Katiwa and Martin Chimenya, journalists for Voice of the People (VOP), a private news production company, were assaulted by ZANU-PF supporters. Katiwa and Chimenya were covering student protests during a week of demonstrations sponsored by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The ruling-party supporters accused the journalists of supporting the protests, then beat them and confiscated their mobile phones and minidisk recorders.
Zimbabwean sources said Katiwa and Chimenya were taken to a local police station and then to ZANU-PF headquarters, where they were further assaulted. Police, who were called by the ruling-party supporters, later forced the journalists to take them to the home of VOP coordinator John Masuku, from which VOP administrative files and the computer the journalists use to file their stories were seized. VOP programs that are produced in Zimbabwe are broadcast into Southern Africa from Madagascar on a Radio Netherlands shortwave transmitter.
The following day, the computer and files were returned to the journalists. Katiwa's and Chimenya's phones and recorders were not returned to them.
On June 3, police harassed Luke Tamborinyoka and Precious Shumba, chief news editor and senior news reporter, respectively, for the independent Daily News. Police detained Tamborinyoka and Shumba while the two were on their way home from the newspaper's offices and made them crawl on the ground before releasing them.
On June 6, men in police uniform raided the offices and home of Edwina and Newton Spicer of Spicer Productions, an independent documentary production company. Though the men did not have a warrant, they seized equipment belonging to the production company and attacked several employees. The Spicers were out of the country on vacation at the time of the raid.
On June 9, police returned to the Spicers' offices and home, this time bearing a warrant allowing them to search for "subversive materials." Police seized video cameras and tapes. The Spicers have produced numerous documentaries about Zimbabwe and the ongoing political and economic crisis in the country. Journalists in the capital, Harare, said that the police might have raided the Spicers' offices suspecting the production company to be the source of recent news footage of the violent suppression of mass protests that had aired on international broadcasters.
On June 11, Dolores Cortes Meldrum, wife of deported Guardian correspondent Andrew Meldrum, fled the country after being summoned to the offices of the Immigration Department. Cortes Meldrum had recently had her residency permit revoked, in spite of the fact that her permit had been issued to her independently of her husband. Her lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said that Cortes Meldrum decided to flee the country for fear of being forcibly deported like her husband was in mid-May.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues worldwide, we condemn the ongoing harassment of journalists in Zimbabwe. Ruling-party supporters and police frequently attack and threaten journalists with impunity. This has created a climate of fear and intimidation, and has increased the dangers for journalists reporting on matters of legitimate public concern.
We call on you to do everything within your power to see that the unpunished harassment of independent journalists ceases immediately, and that journalists are able to practice their profession freely, without fear of reprisals.
Thank you for your attention in this matter. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper