CPJ calls on President Mugabe to drop defamation charges against newspaper

New York, April 6, 2001 — CPJ is greatly disturbed by criminal defamation charges brought by President Robert Mugabe against three journalists at the Harare Daily News.

Daily News editor Geoff Narrate and two of his reporters, Sandra Nyaira and Julius Zava, were charged on Wednesday with criminal defamation of President Robert Mugabe and parliamentary speaker Emmerson Mnangagwa, sources in Zimbabwe told CPJ. All three denied the charges in statements recorded at a police station in Harare.

The charges stem from articles published in the paper in November and December 2000, alleging that a company called Air Harbor Technologies had bribed senior government officials to win the tender to build a new international airport in Harare.

“Regardless of the merits of these particular allegations, CPJ believes that journalists should never go to jail for what they write,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on Zimbabwean justice officials to drop these absurd charges immediately and allow the staff of the Daily News to carry out their professional duties without further harassment.”

In recent weeks, the Daily News has come under severe pressure both from police and officials of the ruling ZANU-PF party. On March 29, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo filed a civil suit against the Daily News for publishing allegedly defamatory articles about him.

Moyo’s suit is based on the paper’s coverage of a lawsuit that the Ford Foundation filed against him in Nairobi on January 22. The suit claims that Moyo stole some US$100,000 in official funds when he was working for the Ford Foundation in Kenya between 1993 and 1997.

President Mugabe has ruled the country since independence in 1980, but his government has come under siege in recent months, due to a faltering economy, an unpopular military engagement in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and an increasingly vocal opposition.