Foreign journalists denied visas

February 28, 2002

President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Harare, Zimbabwe

VIA FAX: 011-263-4-708-820

Your Excellency:

Given the fact that Zimbabwean authorities had threatened to bar foreign correspondents from covering the March 9 and 10 presidential elections, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is pleased that a number of foreign news reporters have been granted accreditation.

However, we remain concerned that the accreditation process was applied selectively and that some foreign correspondents have been denied entry into Zimbabwe because of their professional affiliation or critical reporting on the country’s deepening political crisis.

CPJ’s monitoring of visa applications shows that Zimbabwean immigration and media authorities have been using the accreditation regime as a new tool of censorship and retaliation against foreign reporters. A week ahead of the March 9 and 10 presidential elections, a number of journalists and news organizations that have applied for visa and accreditation have still not received definitive answers to their requests. Zimbabwean authorities have provided no clear reasons for this delay.

According to a February 26 report in Zimbabwe’s state-owned The Herald newspaper, at least 131 foreign journalists have applied for accreditation to report on the poll; only 72 have been allowed to do so. The Herald asserted, “Accreditation has been restricted to those organizations considered not to have taken a biased position on land reform.” The following foreign journalists and news organizations have been unfairly denied accreditation:

•Gorrel Espelund, a Swedish journalist from the newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet, was not allowed to enter Zimbabwe, apparently because Pierre Schori, the head of the group of European Union election observers, is also from Sweden. Schori was recently expelled from Zimbabwe after being accused of “political arrogance.”

• Sally Sara, a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Service, was also denied accreditation. The Herald quoted George Charamba, permanent secretary of the Department of Information and Publicity, as saying that Sara was not welcome in Zimbabwe because Australia is expected to join a number of Commonwealth countries in condemning political violence in Zimbabwe at the Commonwealth Head of Governments Meeting, scheduled for March 2 and 3.

• South African journalists from the Sunday Times, Mail and Guardian, and the Independent Group of newspapers were denied accreditation supposedly because their “ownership structures” were not acceptable to Zimbabwean authorities. This is presumably because their owners are either British or perceived to be affiliated with the United Kingdom. After an appeal by Mathatha Tsedu, the chairman of the South African National Editor’s Forum, the Zimbabwean government has promised to reconsider its decision.

• U.S. journalist John Murphy of The Baltimore Sun was denied a visa. Charamba declared that the Zimabawean government was unhappy with a story about the country that Murphy wrote earlier in the year.

• The Associated Press was also denied additional visas for foreign correspondents. Authorities said the wire service already has a permanent correspondent in Zimbabwe and does not need more than one person to cover the election.

• David Blair, a journalist with the United Kingdom­based Daily Telegraph, and other U.K.-based journalists and news organizations were not allowed to travel to Zimbabwe because official policy apparently bars most British media and government officials from the country. While the BBC was expelled in July 2001 and has not been allowed back since, authorities did allow Independent Television News (ITN) and the London-based Channel 4 to send crews to Zimbabwe.

The selective application of Zimbabwe’s accreditation rules and the politically motivated censoring of critical foreign journalists and news outlets violates the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of which guarantees all people the right to seek and impart information regardless of frontiers.

Democratic elections depend on a press that is free to report on all issues and viewpoints without fear of retribution or censorship. CPJ therefore urges the government of Zimbabwe to give equal treatment to all journalists and news organizations with pending applications for accreditation and to ensure that news reporters covering the March 9 and 10 presidential elections are allowed to conduct their work without intimidation.

We thank you for your attention to this urgent matters and await your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director