New York, August 21, 2001—Two days after a Harare newspaper reported that prominent local journalist Basildon Peta topped an alleged government “hit list,” police summoned the journalist for questioning.
Peta is the news editor of the weekly Financial Gazette and a stringer for the Independent of London and The Star of Johannesburg, South Africa. He also serves as secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. On several occasions, he has publicly denounced President Robert Mugabe for repeated violations of press freedom.
“CPJ is extremely anxious about the safety of our colleague Basildon Peta, one of Zimbabwe’s most respected journalists,” noted CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “The fact that he has been summoned by the Harare police is ominous and cause for considerable alarm.”
Police detectives visited the office of the Financial Gazette in Harare today looking for the editor, who was out at the time. Peta told CPJ that he and his lawyer intend to report at a local police station tomorrow morning.
In January 1999, government agents tortured journalists Ray Choto and Mark Chavunduka of the Harare weekly The Standard after they were detained at the same police station.
On August 19, The Standard reported that Peta topped a hit list compiled by the law and order section of the Zimbabwe police and the Central Intelligence Organization, which oversees internal security.
The paper noted that journalists on the list have recently faced increased surveillance by state security agents.
Hit list causes “great deal of fear”
Peta said the publication of the list caused him “a great deal of fear” because he has independently confirmed its existence. The Financial Gazette has not yet published an article about the list because Peta has yet to obtain a copy.
In the last year, Peta has endured overt surveillance and telephone threats. Bullets have been left at his doorstep, and members of his family have also been subjected to intimidation.
“CPJ is deeply disturbed by reports of any government death list in Zimbabwe, especially one that includes journalists,” noted Cooper. “While we continue to investigate the existence of such a list, it is clear that independent journalists in Zimbabwe face increasing pressure from the embattled Mugabe regime.”
On August 16, CPJ sent a letter to President Mugabe chronicling a host of press freedom violations and calling on the president to “eliminate all obstacles inhibiting the work of the press so that [upcoming] elections can take place in an environment in which information circulates freely and ideas are openly debated.”