Attacks on the Press 2000: Zimbabwe

JOURNALISTS IN ZIMBABWE FACED INCREASING DIFFICULTIES IN 2000, as President Robert Mugabe’s government tried to extend its control over the news in the face of serial political crises.

Mugabe’s problems included a faltering economy, an unpopular military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a contentious election, and a controversial move to seize white-owned land. At home, Mugabe responded to his growing unpopularity by trying to intimidate everyone who disagreed with the ruling ZANU-PF party, including the independent media. His government also sought to assert control of new technologies, especially the Internet, and defied the Supreme Court by dragging its feet in opening the airwaves to private broadcasters.

In March, Parliament approved the Posts and Telecommunications Bill, establishing a new regulatory board with powers over postal, telephone, radio, television, cellular, and Internet services. The bill, which Mugabe had not yet signed at year’s end, would give the president the power to appoint all members of the board. All Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will have to apply for private licenses. The bill does not limit the cost of these licenses, and the government can take up to eight months to grant or reject applications. ISPs with less than 51 percent Zimbabwean ownership are ineligible for licensing.

The bill also grants the government power to monitor communications when “necessary in the interests of national security or the maintenance of law and order.” People caught distributing information that violates “state security” face up to two years imprisonment, a fine of 200,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$5260), or both. Section 96 of the bill specifies that the president’s decisions may not be appealed, in clear violation of Section 18 (9) of Zimbabwe’s Constitution of 1980, which guarantees “a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court.”

In April, Mugabe signed the controversial Public Order and Security Bill (POSB). The bill replaced the colonial-era Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960 (LOMA), which forbade the publication of news “likely to cause fear, alarm or despondency,” but imposed no obligation on the state to prove such consequences. Among other provisions, the POSB recognized basic press freedom protections. In 1999, Mugabe returned the bill to Parliament to be rewritten. He only signed it after these offending provisions had been removed.

On April 22, a bomb exploded at the Harare offices of The Daily News, an independent newspaper that has often expressed vocal opposition to the government. Although most independent journalists blamed either the government or its supporters for the attack, Harare airport police arrested Associated Press photographer Obed Zilwa, who had arrived at the scene of the bombing to take pictures. Zilwa was released on April 29, after spending some 48 hours in jail. On May 2, the Attorney General’s Office told him that the charges had been dropped.

During the June election campaign, all Zimbabwean media, both state-owned and independent, came under intense pressure to cover the ZANU-PF regime in a positive way. Information Minister Chen Chimutengwende called a meeting of state media editors and staffers and informed them that they had a duty to support the government’s views. At the same time, the government accused international journalists of colluding with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and white farmers to discredit the ZANU-PF regime.

On June 20, in southern Zimbabwe, a mob of some 20 people, one of whom wore a ZANU-PF shirt, attacked a car carrying four foreign journalists in full view of Commonwealth election observers. The four journalists-Beatrice Khadige of Agence France-Presse, Sharon Chetty of the South African newspaper The Sowetan, Guy Oliver of the South African network e-TV, and e-TV cameraman Brian Ramapulana-escaped unharmed, but the windows of their rental car were smashed.

In Harare on June 6, the leader of the National Liberation War Veterans Association, a group agitating for the expropriation of white-owned commercial farms, threatened to sue The Daily News, which he accused of profiting financially from its coverage of his activities. The leader, Chenjerai Hunzvi, told reporters, “I do not want to start a war with the newspaper, but this is my last warning.” Three days later, war veterans in the town of Kwekwe, Midlands Province, seized and burned copies of The Independent, The Standard, and The Daily News, demanding that only the state-owned daily Herald be sold on local newsstands.

In July, the same Hunzvi, by then a member of Parliament, threatened Daily News reporter Chengetai Zvauya. Later, members of the war veterans association followed and beat up Zvauya, allegedly at Hunzvi’s instigation. The journalist escaped with minor injuries.

On September 22, the Supreme Court declared that the state broadcasting monopoly violated the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression. Despite this unambiguous decision from the highest court in the land, Jonathan Moyo, the minister of state for information and publicity, announced that the ZBC would continue to be the only licensed broadcaster until a regulatory framework for private stations could be devised.

In October, the government issued new regulations that established the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe and gave Moyo’s ministry final authority to issue broadcast licenses. The regulations state that anyone caught broadcasting or running a transmitter without a license can be fined up to five million dollars (US$94,000), or jailed for up to two years. The regulations also require licensed broadcasters to “give a total of one hour of the week to the government to explain its policies.”

During this period of legal jockeying between the courts and the government, armed police officers stormed the studios of the private company Capital Radio Limited and confiscated broadcasting equipment, in violation of a High Court injunction that expressly barred police from seizing the equipment. Moyo and Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo held a press conference at which they displayed the confiscated equipment. Meanwhile, two Capital Radio directors, Gerry Jackson and Mike Auret, Jr., went into hiding after police raided their homes.

Andy Moyse, The Standard
Clive Wilson, The Standard
Chengetayi Zvauya, The Standard

Police in the capital, Harare, arrested acting editor Moyse, publisher Wilson, and reporter Zvauya of the independent paper The Standard. The three journalists were charged with defamation in connection with a January 30 story alleging that a government-sponsored draft constitution had been printed in September 1999, well before a national referendum was held to determine what the content of the new constitution should be. The story quoted anonymous sources at the government printing presses.

Jonathan Moyo of the Constitutional Commission dismissed the story as a “criminal lie.” In its February 20 edition, The Standard apologized to the authorities, admitting that the story was partly fabricated.

Although Moyse resigned from the paper, he still faced criminal defamation charges. On the afternoon of their arrest, all three journalists appeared in court and were remanded out of custody. The charges against them were dropped unconditionally in late April.

Trevor Ncube, The Independent
Iden Wetherell, The Independent

Editor Ncube and deputy director Wetherell of the Harare business weekly The Independent were accused of violating the Censorship and Entertainment Control Act in connection with a Reuters photograph published in the paper’s March 3 edition.

The photograph showed a group of naked Austrians outside a Vienna department store. Police said publishing a nude photo violated the Censorship and Entertainment Act. Ncube and Wetherell, in the presence of their lawyers, were “warned and cautioned” by the police.

The two journalists and their publication maintained that the photograph was in no way indecent and challenged the constitutionality of the charge.

At year’s end, no further police action had been taken against the two journalists. A source at The Independent said that although they had heard nothing further from the police, the charges had not been officially dropped.

Nyasha Nyakunu, Daily News
Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, Daily News
Shadreck Muchecheni, Daily News

Nyakunu, editor of the independent Daily News in Harare, Mukwazhi, a photographer for the paper, and Muchecheni, their driver, were attacked by a mob at a rally for the youth wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party.

They were detained for two hours by their attackers, who were armed with iron bars, sticks, and golf clubs and repeatedly threatened to kill them for allegedly supporting the country’s white landowners and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

Nyakunu, Mukwazhi, and Muchecheni were released only after the intervention of a leading veteran of Zimbabwe’s independence struggle who had arrived to address the ZANU-PF rally. The leader nonetheless denounced the Daily News for opposing the efforts of war veterans to seize white-owned farms. The journalists’ two cameras, national identity papers, and press cards were confiscated.

The Daily News
Geoff Nyarota, The Daily News

An unidentified attacker hurled a homemade bomb from a passing car at the entrance of Trustee House, a 10-story building in downtown Harare that housed the independent Daily News. The explosion, which occurred at about 9 p.m., caused no injuries and little material damage.

The next day, Minister of Information Chen Chimutengwende dismissed the attack as a “gimmick” orchestrated by The Daily News in order to “tarnish Zimbabwe internationally.”

Four days before the explosion, however, Daily News editor Nyarota told reporters that he had received death threats in the mail from an organization identifying itself as the Restoration of African Conscience. The letters accused The Daily News of biased news coverage and threatened “to do away with [Nyarota] and [his] newspaper.”

CPJ protested the attack on The Daily News in an April 27 letter to President Robert Mugabe.

Obed Zilwa
, The Associated Press

Harare airport police arrested Zilwa, an Associated Press photographer, on suspicion of involvement in an April 22 bomb attack on the offices of the independent Daily News.

Zilwa was held in a Harare jail cell for three nights. Before releasing him on April 29, police confiscated his passport and plane ticket and asked him to report back to them on May 2.

The photographer, a South African citizen, was arrested on his way home from covering the political crisis in Zimbabwe. Police reportedly questioned him for more than seven hours. Besides querying him about the bomb explosion at the Daily News, they also asked for his personal opinion on the current wave of occupations of white-owned land by veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war. He was allowed to leave the country on May 2.

Zilwa was one of the first photographers to arrive at the scene of the April 22 explosion. (The Meikles Hotel, where Zilwa and most of the foreign press corps were staying, is just a few blocks from the offices of the Daily News.) His detention violated Zimbabwean law, under which prisoners must be charged if they are held for more than 48 hours.

CPJ protested the Daily News bombing in an April 27 letter to President Robert Mugabe.

The Daily News

Chenjerai Hunzvi, chairman of the National Liberation War Veterans’ Association, issued what he described as a “last warning” to the independent Harare paper The Daily News, telling it to desist from publishing articles that tarnished his image and that of his organization.

Hunzvi also threatened to sue The Daily News, which he claimed was making a lot of money by portraying him as a monster. “I do not want to start a war with the newspaper, but this is my last warning,” he told reporters at the press conference.

At the time, Hunzvi was leading a national campaign to expropriate mostly white-owned commercial farms in Zimbabwe.

Sibusiso Ndlovu, The Chronicle

Ndlovu, a senior photographer with the state-owned, Bulawayo-based daily The Chronicle, was attacked by war veterans while taking pictures of a clash between opposition supporters and partisans of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

According to The Chronicle, the assailants punched and kicked Ndlovu, saying they did not want anyone taking pictures of them. Ndlovu sustained injuries to his nose and upper lip.

Effort Nkomo, a Bulawayo provincial spokesperson for the ZANU-PF who witnessed the assault, and Cain Nkala, the head of the Bulawayo War Veterans Association, apologized for the attack, saying it was uncalled for.

Beatrice Khadige, Agence France-Presse
Sharon Chetty, The Sowetan
Guy Oliver, e-TV
Brian Ramapulana, e-TV

A mob of some 20 men attacked the four journalists in their rental car at a farm in southern Zimbabwe.

The attackers wore orange work suits, except for one who wore a T-shirt with the emblem of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF). They began to throw stones at the journalists’ vehicle after an opposition Movement for Democratic Change team distributed campaign leaflets at the farm.

Two Commonwealth election observers witnessed the attack. The four journalists escaped, but the windows of their rental car were smashed.

George Soko, Herald
William Mafunga, Herald

Soko, a reporter with the state-owned daily Herald, and Mafunga, a photographer with the paper, were both held hostage by war veterans in the Mashonaland Central region of Zimbabwe. The veterans, who had been occupying white-owned commercial farms in various parts of the country, accused Soko and Mafunga of belonging to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

According to sources, the war veterans told the journalists that their press cards were not adequate proof that they were journalists and accused them of being spies for the MDC. Some veterans demanded that the journalists produce their Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriot Front (ZANU-PF) cards to prove their loyalty to the ruling party, and later threatened to beat them up and overturn their vehicles. Veteran leaders in the area later ordered the journalists released.

Chengetai Zvauya, The Standard

Zvauya, a parliamentary reporter with The Standard newspaper, was threatened by member of parliament Chenjerai Hunzvi, a former chairperson of the Zimbabwe War Veterans Association (ZWVA). Hunzvi warned Zvauya against writing about him and the ZWVA.

Rob Cooper, The Associated Press
Chris Mazivanhange, The Associated Press
Vincent Murwira, South African Broadcasting Corporation
Peter Maringisanwe, South African Broadcasting Corporation

Zimbabwean soldiers attacked four international journalists in the western Harare township of Dzivarasekwa, according to international news reports and CPJ sources in the region. The Associated Press (AP) photographer Cooper and AP cameraman Mazivanhange were beaten when they left their vehicle to interview soldiers who had come to Dzivarasekwa to help contain riots over increases in the price of bread, sugar, and soft drinks.

The rioting started on October 16 and spread across the southern and western suburbs of Harare, with protesters stoning cars and trashing suburban shops.

The troops later attacked South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) reporter Murwira and SABC cameraman Maringisanwe, who were filming the riot, and confiscated their videotapes. All four reporters suffered minor bruises during the assaults, which were immediately condemned by local journalists and press freedom advocates.

CPJ published a news alert about the incident on October 19.

Brian Hungwe, Zimbabwe Independent

The Harare-based weekly Zimbabwe Independent reported that staff reporter Brian Hungwe had been assaulted by Kindness Paradza, coordinator of the purportedly independent, nonpartisan National Development Assembly (NDA), a community development agency.

The attack resulted from an article by Hungwe in that week’s issue of the paper, alleging that the NDA was in fact financed by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).

According to a later article in the Zimbabwe Independent, Paradza confronted Hungwe at a local club and asked him why he had not sought his comment on the story. Paradza grabbed Hungwe’s shirt and threatened to beat him up. The confrontation was ultimately defused by onlookers.

Julius Zava, The Daily News

Zava, assistant editor in chief at the independent Daily News in Harare, was stopped at a police roadblock by two officers who claimed he had damaged the road and asked him to pay a fine on the spot for this alleged “offense.” Upon learning that Zava was employed by The Daily News, which is fiercely critical of the regime, the officers handcuffed him and took him to a police station, where he was berated and manhandled. One police officer accused Zava of inciting people to civil disobedience through his writings, and forced him to sign a written apology for his alleged misdeeds. Zava was then released.