President Robert Mugabe
Office of the President
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Via facsimile: 011-263-4-708-820
The Committee to Protect Journalists is writing to protest your government’s continued harassment of independent journalists.
Since June 1999, when the people of Zimbabwe voted against expanding the powers of the executive branch, your government has been systematically dismantling the constitutionally protected rights of Zimbabwean journalists.
Soon after your controversial March 15 re-election, you signed the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill. Since then, Zimbabwean authorities have stepped up their harassment of local independent reporters.
Most recently, on April 15, police arrested Geoff Nyarota, editor of the independent Daily News and the recipient of a 2001 CPJ International Press Freedom Award, and charged him with abusing “journalistic privilege” and publishing false information under section 80 (1) (a) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Chapter 10:27.
Section 80 (1) (a) stipulates that, “a journalist shall be deemed to have abused his journalistic privilege and committed an offence if he falsifies or fabricates information and publishes falsehoods.” Violators may be fined up to 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,818) or jailed for up to two years.
The charges against Nyarota stem from an April 10 Daily News article about alleged vote rigging in last month’s presidential election. The newspaper reported Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede’s claim, made during a live radio and television broadcast by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), that election officials had collected 2.2 million valid votes. This figure was 700,000 votes less than the figure subsequently published by the state media.
In the article, the Daily News claimed to have a tape of the ZBC broadcast. Yet police did not ask Nyarota for that crucial piece of evidence. The journalist was released after three hours in police custody. According to his lawyer, he may be summoned to face the charge in court at a later date.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues and promoting press freedom worldwide, we call on Your Excellency to ensure that this unjust charge is dropped without delay. We also urge you to take all legal measures to ensure the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and all other legislation used to restrict freedom of expression in Zimbabwe.
Thank you for your attention to these extremely urgent matters. We await your reply.