CPJ delegation visits Harare to support local press

Harare, July 26, 2001–For more than two years, since the January 1999 arrest and torture of two journalists from the Harare weekly The Standard, the press in Zimbabwe has operated under a virtual state of siege.

In April 2000, the offices of the Daily News were bombed. In January 2001, a commando team blew up the paper’s printing press with anti-tank mines. Since January, at least three foreign correspondents have been expelled from the country. In June, the government announced stringent new immigration requirements that will make it extremely difficult for foreign correspondents to enter Zimbabwe.

And on July 25, the Zimbabwean government suspended the accreditation of all BBC correspondents in the country “pending agreement, if at all possible, on an ethical and professional code of conduct.”

The so-called war veterans many of them too young to have fought in Zimbabwe’s war of liberation, have declared much of the country a “no-go” zone for the independent press. Zimbabwean journalists and the few foreign correspondents still in the country risk beatings or worse if they travel outside the capital, Harare.

The government has continued to cling to its broadcast monopoly despite a Supreme Court ruling that opened up the airwaves to private competition.

Prompted by this dire situation, a delegation from CPJ visited Harare from July 11 to 14 to meet with journalists and learn more about conditions in the country. The delegation included CPJ board member Clarence Page, a syndicated columnist with the Chicago Tribune; CPJ deputy director Joel Simon; and Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi.

On July 13, CPJ hosted a reception that was attended by about 60 journalists. All three members of the delegation expressed CPJ’s commitment to support the Zimbabwean press at this critical moment.

Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence in 1980, has announced he will be a candidate in next year’s presidential election. Many journalists told CPJ that they expect tensions between the government and the press to escalate as the election nears.

In his July 18 column published in the Chicago Tribune, CPJ delegation member Clarence Page recorded his impressions. [Read the column]