New York, August 15, 2001—Police arrested Daily News editor Geoff Nyarota at 12:15 a.m. this morning at his home in Harare, according to international news reports confirmed by CPJ sources in Zimbabwe.
Police later detained Daily News reporter Sam Munyavi, editor John Gambanga, and Gambanga’s assistant, Bill Saidi. All four journalists remain in police custody at the Central Police Station in Harare.
Nyarota and his colleagues have been charged with “publishing false information likely to cause alarm or despondency in the public” under Section 50, (2)(a) of the draconian Law and Order Maintenance Act (LOMA), according to CPJ sources at The Daily News, Zimbabwe’s leading independent newspaper. The charge carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years.
“We condemn the arrest of our colleagues from The Daily News and demand their immediate release,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “It is a sad irony that President Mugabe is wielding a colonial-era law against journalists who dare to criticize his government.”
Today’s arrests followed an article by Munyavi in yesterday’s paper reporting that police vehicles had been used in the looting of white farms in Mhangura, a town in Zimbabwe’s West Province. Officers from the Law and Order Division of the Harare police visited the newsroom at around 8 a.m. on Tuesday to register their protest about the story.
Nyarota, who spoke by phone with reporters from his newspaper, was reported to be in good spirits and had asked that breakfast be brought to him at the police station. His colleagues said he had not been mistreated in custody.
A CPJ delegation visited Harare from July 11 to 14 to assess press freedom conditions during the run-up to next year’s general elections. The delegation, which included board member Clarence Page, deputy director Joel Simon, and Africa program coordinator Yves Sorokobi, met with dozens of journalists from various media.
Journalists described a host of abuses, ranging from physical attacks by government supporters in the countryside to failure to investigate attacks such as the terrorist bombing that destroyed the presses of The Daily News last year.