April 27, 2000
President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
VIA FAX: 011-263-4-708-820
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the ongoing campaign of harassment against the independent, Harare-based paper The Daily News, whose offices were the target of a terrorist bomb attack on April 22.
At 9 p.m. on April 22, an unidentified individual hurled a homemade bomb from a passing car at the entrance of Trustee House, a ten-story building in downtown Harare that houses The Daily News. The explosion caused no injuries and little material damage, according to CPJ’s sources.
A day after the explosion, Minister of Information Chen Chimutengwende dismissed the attack as a “gimmick” orchestrated by staff at the The Daily News in order to “tarnish Zimbabwe internationally.”
Prior to the attack, however, on April 18, Daily News editor-in-chief Geoff Nyarota told reporters that he had received postal death threats from an organization identifying itself as The Restoration of African Conscience. The terrorist group accused The Daily News of biased news coverage and threatened “to do away with [Nyarota] and [his] newspaper.”
The April 22 bombing of the newspaper’s offices came just two weeks after three of its employees survived a vicious attack by youth members of the ruling ZANU-PF party. On April 6, editor Nyasha Nyakunu, photographer Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, and their driver Shadreck Muchecheni arrived at a white-owned farm near Harare that had been invaded by the youths, who assaulted them with iron bars and golf clubs, detained them for two hours, and repeatedly threatened their lives.
Having interrogated the journalists, the youths decreed that they supported the country’s white landowners and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. They later confiscated two cameras belonging to The Daily News team, along with their national identity papers and press cards.
Nyakunu, Mukwazhi, and Muchecheni were released only after the personal intervention of a leading Zimbabwean war veteran. Their cameras and papers were returned some twenty-four hours later.
CPJ believes that ZANU-PF officials, Your Excellency included, have deliberately created the atmosphere of danger and suspicion in which Zimbabwe’s independent media now work. On several occasions this year, Your Excellency attacked privately-owned media as “white-sponsored” and “bent on spreading seeds of disunity.” You also warned that “those who try to cause disunity among our people must watch out because death will befall them.”
In a wide-ranging January interview with the Voice of America (VOA), you stated that your government would deal harshly with “irresponsible journalists who write blatant lies to cook up emotions.” On the matter of Ray Choto and Mark Chavandunka, two journalists with The Standard newspaper whom Zimbabwean soldiers tortured in January, 1999, for reporting on allegations of an impeding military coup, Your Excellency said, “I will not condemn my army for having done that when they are being provoked.”
CPJ is outraged by your contention that the torture of journalists, or any other form of terrorist violence against them, can be justified under any circumstances. The Standard, The Daily News, and other Zimbabwean independent media seem to have become targets simply because they dared to criticize your government. Yet as Your Excellency is no doubt aware, freedom of expression and the press are vital benchmarks of a free society.
Despite numerous attacks against the media, Zimbabwe currently has a lively, professional, and highly successful independent press. The rise of The Daily News, for example, is unique in Africa and should be a source of pride for all Zimbabweans. The paper’s circulation has tripled (from 32,000 to 105,000) since its launch a year ago.
Instead of attacking the media, we urge Your Excellency to condemn this shameful attack on The Daily News publicly and to ensure that an impartial and exhaustive investigation is carried out. By denouncing all those who use violence or the threat of violence to stifle independent reporting, you would create an atmosphere more conducive to democratic debate.
We await your comments on this highly important matter.
Ann K. Cooper