Reporter released without charge after 72 hours in detention

New York, April 1, 2002—CPJ welcomes the release yesterday of Zimbabwean journalist Peta Thornycroft after more than 72 hours in custody on suspicion of violating Zimbabwe’s harsh press laws.

Local sources told CPJ that High Court judge Mohammed Adam ordered police to free Thornycroft, the Zimbabwe correspondent for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, because there were no grounds to keep her in detention.

Thornycroft 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. Police interrogated the journalist for five hours. Thornycroft was initially told 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.”

Thornycroft was later told she would be prosecuted for reporting without proper government accreditation, a criminal violation under the sweeping new Access to Information Act, which President Robert Mugabe signed into law on March 15. Offenders can be fined up to Z$100,000 (US$1,877) or jailed for up to two years.

“We are relieved by the release of Peta Thornycroft, who should have never been arrested in the first place,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We renew our strong objections to the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and to the Public Order and Security Act. Both laws are inimical to freedom of the press and democratic debate and should be scrapped.”