May 1, 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 is writing to condemn the arrests this week of three Harare-based, independent journalists Lloyd Mudiwa, Collin Chiwanza, and Andrew Meldrum.
Central Intelligence Division officers arrested Mudiwa and Chiwanza, both staff writers at the privately owned Daily News, at their Harare office in the early morning hours of April 30.
Meldrum, a U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe who covers the region for London’s The Guardian, was taken into custody at his Harare home at around 5:40 a.m. on May 1.
All three reporters face charges of “abusing journalistic privileges” and “publishing false information” in connection with an April 23 story, later discovered to be inaccurate, stating that youths from the ruling ZANU-PF party had beheaded an opposition supporter. Penalties for conviction under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act include up to two years in prison and fines of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,818).
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which provided the information to the journalists, initially claimed that a pro-government youth militia decapitated Brandina Tadyanemhandu in Mashonaland West Province. The MDC also alleged that the militiamen forced the victim’s two daughters to watch the execution.
On April 30, after fact-checking determined that the story was inaccurate, the Daily News published a front-page retraction of the story. The paper also ran an MDC statement accusing the alleged victim’s husband of fabricating the story in order to extort money from the party. (According to several Zimbabwe analysts, the MDC often makes small financial contributions to victims of political violence.)
Before the Daily News retraction was published, Meldrum filed the information in the article to The Guardian, which ran it on page 1 on April 30. The Guardian has since issued a statement acknowledging that the story was inaccurate.
Despite the prompt, good faith efforts by both the Daily News and The Guardian to correct the inaccurate stories, all three journalists remain in detention. CPJ respectfully requests their immediate release and urges Your Excellency’s government to refrain from its frequent use of criminal charges to detain journalists.
Of particular concern is the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which was passed after Your Excellency’s March 15 re-election. According to The Associated Press, seven independent journalists have been arrested since enforcement of this law began less than six weeks ago.
Although four of those journalists have been released, the continued imprisonment of Mudiwa, Chiwanza, and Meldrum is one of several disturbing signs of new government pressures on independent journalists.
In addition, CPJ is deeply concerned about a recent statement from Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, who advised government-run companies against advertising in the Daily News, the country’s largest independent daily. Moyo stated that the government could not allow advertisers to “subsidize” the “destruction of Zimbabwe through outright lies published by Daily News.”
As an organization of journalists dedicated to promoting and defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns such attacks on independent media. We call on Your Excellency’s government to free the three journalists currently imprisoned and to respect the right of journalists to report the news freely, as guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We thank you for your attention to this matter and await your reply.