March 29, 2002
President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
VIA FAX: 011-263-4-708-820
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns your government’s decision to prosecute Zimbabwean journalist Peta Thornycroft under the new Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This marks your government’s first attempt to implement the controversial act, which you signed into law two weeks ago.
Thornycroft, Zimbabwe correspondent for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, was arrested on March 27 in the rural town of Chimanimani, 300 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Harare. She was investigating reports that supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party were attacking members of the political opposition. The journalist was interrogated for five hours and was initially told by police that she would be prosecuted under the restrictive Public Order and Security Act, which prohibits false reporting and specifically criminalizes statements that “incite or promote public disorder or public violence.”
On Friday, according to her lawyer, police told Thornycroft that she would be prosecuted under provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act that prohibit journalists from working without state accreditation. If convicted, she could face a fine of up to Z$100,000 (US$1,877) or a jail sentence of up to two years.
We renew our objections to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and to the Public Order and Security Act. Both laws give officials the power to decide who is and is not a journalist, and provide stiff penalties for those deemed to be in violation.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues and promoting press freedom around the world, we call on Your Excellency to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Peta Thornycroft to refrain from interfering with the work of journalists in Zimbabwe.
Thank you for your attention to these extremely urgent matters. We await your reply.