Attacks on the Press 2002: Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean journalists continue to toil under extremely tough conditions, with government lawsuits and physical attacks by backers of the ruling ZANU-PF still regular occurrences. On August 28, unknown assailants blew up the newsroom of Voice of the People, which was founded by former employees of the official Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. The private news outlet has been producing shows since June 2000 and usually airs its programs on Radio Netherlands and SW Radio, a Europe-based station opposed to President Robert Mugabe that can be heard on shortwave radio in Zimbabwe.

According to CPJ research, the August explosion is the fourth bomb attack on the independent media since January 2001, when a bomb gutted the printing presses of the Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, which has suffered two similar attacks since then.

On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the world’s 10 worst places to be a journalist, highlighting the harsh repression under President Mugabe and Information Minister Jonathan Moyo.

Earlier in the year, Mugabe had warned journalists that those who wrote “libelous” reports quoting unnamed sources “would be arrested.” Addressing a gathering of church leaders who were pressing the president for a more liberalized media, the president said, “If these sources are reliable, let them be reliable enough to come and rescue you when you are arrested.” And indeed, after the highly contentious and seriously flawed presidential elections on March 15–in which Mugabe faced the greatest threat ever to his 20-year rule from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)–the state moved quickly to stifle independent reporting. Mugabe’s first significant act after re-election was to sign the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), by far the most repressive of the country’s already draconian anti-media laws.

The controversial act, drafted in secret, criminalizes the publication of “falsehoods” and grants the government the right to decide who may or may not work as a journalist in Zimbabwe. Authorities say the bill will keep “dangerous elements” out of the country–a claim that was widely interpreted to mean foreign correspondents. The foreign press corps in Zimbabwe has been decimated during the last few years, since the Mugabe government accused Harare-based foreign journalists of being spies for the Britih government, Mugabe’s most ardent critic. A few foreign reporters remain in Zimbabwe, but morale is low, and the dangers appear overwhelming.

With the president’s explicit consent, the government turned its attention to the
local media and arrested any journalist who dared author critical reports. Using the
Public Order and Security Act (POSA), AIPPA, and the colonial-era Censorship and Entertainment Control Act, the state hauled more than a dozen journalists to court.
The arsenal of legislation at the state’s disposal meant that journalists could be charged with anything from defamation to publishing pornography to “engendering hostility against the president,” which is illegal under POSA. The cases ranged from petty–Iden Wetherell, editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, was arrested and questioned over a photograph he had published showing half-clad Amazonian men playing soccer–to shocking, such as the charge against Peta Thornycroft, correspondent for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian, who was accused of “inciting public disorder and violence” with an article she wrote alleging that ruling-party supporters were beating opposition members.

The most serious case involved the Daily News and U.S. journalist Andrew Meldrum. Daily News reporters Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza and editor-in-chief Geoff Nyarota were arrested with Meldrum in connection with an April 23 story by Mudiwa–later discovered to be inaccurate–stating that youths from the ruling ZANU-PF party had beheaded an opposition supporter. The Daily News published a front-page retraction of the story on April 30. Meldrum, a Zimbabwe-based correspondent for London’s Guardian newspaper, wrote an article for that paper reporting on the fact that the story had appeared in the Daily News and was being widely discussed in Zimbabwe.

The article ran on the same day as the Daily News retraction, and Guardian editors later issued their own correction. Nyarota was detained and released pending the hearing of the case, but Mudiwa, Chiwanza, and Meldrum were arrested and kept in police custody for three days. All four journalists were charged with “abusing journalistic privilege” and “publishing false information” under AIPPA. The case against Chiwanza was dropped due to insufficient evidence. Meldrum, a permanent resident of Zimbabwe, was found not guilty but was immediately served with a deportation order requiring him to leave the country within 24 hours. He filed an appeal, his deportation was suspended, and the matter was referred to the Supreme Court. By year’s end, no date had been set for a hearing, and Meldrum was free to remain and work in Zimbabwe. Mudiwa and Nyarota are currently free pending a decision on their cases.

Faced with all these legal challenges, journalists fought back. In May, the Foreign Correspondents Association filed suit with the Supreme Court contesting AIPPA’s constitutionality. Although the case was filed under a certificate of urgency, the court declared the suit “not urgent,” and at year’s end, no hearing date had been set.

In August, the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe also challenged sections of AIPPA, including the Media and Information Commission’s power to compel journalists to register. On November 21, however, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s right to register journalists. After initially refusing to comply with the registration requirement, independent journalists gave in but protested to the commission. In addition to paying a Z$6,000 (US$110) fee, journalists must complete detailed accreditation questionnaires.

In a letter to commission chair Tafataona Mahoso, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Luke Tamborinyoka wrote, “We do not know what this personal information is going to be used for,” and he expressed fear that the form was an intelligence-gathering document disguised as an accreditation exercise. Mahoso dismissed the concerns and declined to change the questionnaires.

At year’s end, a labor dispute at the Daily News threatened the paper’s existence. The paper stopped publishing around December 20 after workers went on strike, demanding a more than 100 percent pay raise. On December 31, Nyarota, editor-in-chief and a CPJ 2001 International Press Freedom award recipient, was dismissed by the paper’s board of directors. The Daily News resumed publication that same day. The reason for Nyarota’s dismissal was murky but seemed to be both political and financial. What is clear is that after his dismissal, the government-controlled media began a smear campaign against Nyarota, and police attempted to arrest him.

February 11

Daily News

At about 3 a.m., two gasoline bombs were thrown from a moving vehicle at the Bulawayo bureau of the independent Daily News. No one was hurt in the explosion, and the office suffered only minor damage. A nearby building housing the Daily Press, a private printing business unrelated to the Daily News, was also bombed.

The attack followed a February 7 incident in which unidentified assailants plastered campaign posters for President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party on the bureau’s windows and outer walls. The individuals threatened to burn down the building if the posters were removed.

When Daily News editors called ZANU-PF headquarters to complain about the posters, party officials denied any involvement, claiming that some posters had been stolen from their offices.

February 25

Edwina Spicer, South African Broadcasting Corporation
Jackie Cahi, South African Broadcasting Corporation

Spicer, co-owner of the documentary and film production house Spicer Productions, and Cahi, a journalist at Spicer Productions, were arrested by police while working on a film for the South African Broadcasting Corporation. The two journalists were filming opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai as he turned himself in to police to answer charges that he had plotted to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

After filming Tsvangirai, the journalists headed back to their studio. On the way, police officers flagged them down and told them they had broken the law by filming in a restricted area–specifically by taping Tsvangirai’s convoy as it passed Mugabe’s official residence, the State House. Police took Spicer to Harare Central Police Station, and Cahi was told to follow in her car.

The two were detained and charged under the Protected Areas Act with “failing to comply with the direction as to movement or conduct in a protected area.” The charges were dismissed the next day, and Spicer and Cahi were released.

February 28

The Associated Press
Sunday Times
Mail & Guardian
The Independent Newspapers Group
David Blair, Daily Telegraph
John Murphy, The Baltimore Sun
Sally Sara, Australian Broadcasting Service
Gorrel Espelund, Sydsvenska Dagbladet

Espelund, a reporter with the Swedish newspaper Sydsvenska Dagbladet; Sara, a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Service; Murphy, with the U.S.-based Baltimore Sun; Blair, a journalist with the United Kingdom-based Daily Telegraph; other U.K.-based journalists and news organizations; and journalists from The Associated Press, South Africa’s Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, and the Independent Newspapers Group were barred from covering the March 9 and 10 presidential elections.

According to a February 26 report in the state-owned The Herald, at least 131 foreign journalists applied for accreditation to report on the poll, but only 72 were 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.”

March 25

Geoff Nyarota, Daily News

Zimbabwean information minister Jonathan Moyo threatened to prosecute Geoff Nyarota, editor-in-chief of the independent Daily News. In a letter to Nyarota, Moyo described a March 22 Daily News article as patently false. The article alleged that the African Caribbean Pacific-European Union (ACP-EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly had adopted a resolution calling for fresh presidential elections in Zimbabwe.

A spokesperson for the ACP-EU confirmed the newspaper’s report, but Moyo denied that any such resolution was passed and demanded that the paper print a retraction. Nyarota refused. He faces a fine of up to 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,875) or up to two years in jail if found guilty. His case remained pending at year’s end.

March 27

Peta Thornycroft, Daily Telegraph, Mail & Guardian

Thornycroft, the Zimbabwe correspondent for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian and Britain’s Daily Telegraph, was arrested in the rural town of Chimanimani, 300 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of the capital, Harare. The journalist was investigating reports that supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party were attacking members of the political opposition.

She was interrogated for five hours then accused of violating the Public Order and Security Act, which makes it an offense to “publish or communicate false statements prejudicial to the state.” The law specifically criminalizes statements that “incite or promote public disorder or public violence.” Thornycroft faced five years in prison or a 100,000 Zimbabwean dollar fine (US$1,875) if charged and convicted. On March 31, Zimbabwean authorities, bowing to local and international criticism, released her without charge.

April 15

Geoff Nyarota, Daily News

Nyarota, editor of the independent Daily News and the recipient of a 2001 CPJ International Press Freedom Award, was arrested and charged with abusing “journalistic privilege” and publishing false information under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The section of the act under which he was charged, 80(1)(a), stipulates that “a journalist shall be deemed to have abused his journalistic privilege and committed an offense if he falsifies or fabricates information and publishes falsehoods.” Violators may be fined up to 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,820) or jailed for up to two years.

The charges against Nyarota stem from an April 10 Daily News article about alleged vote rigging during the March 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–700,000 votes fewer than the number subsequently published by the state media.

In the article, the Daily News claimed to have a tape of the ZBC broadcast, but police did not ask Nyarota for that crucial evidence. The journalist was released after three hours. According to his lawyer, he may be summoned to face the charge in court at a later date but had not been called by year’s end.
Dumisani Muleya, Zimbabwe Independent
Iden Wetherell, Zimbabwe Independent

Muleya, chief reporter for the independent business weekly Zimbabwe Independent, was arrested by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and charged with criminal defamation.

The charges stemmed form an April 12 article in which Muleya reported that the brother of first lady Grace Mugabe had asked her to intervene on his behalf in a business dispute. The story also quoted Lawrence Kamwi, Mugabe’s spokesperson, as saying that the first lady recommended that her brother take up the matter with the relevant ministry.

Muleya was released the same day after police issued him a “warned and cautioned” statement. He was ordered to report to the Harare Central Police Station for fingerprinting on the morning of April 16.

On April 17, Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell was arrested, also in connection with the story. He was released the next day. Although both journalists were released without charge, the police said they would “proceed by way of summons,” meaning that the journalists can be summoned and charged at any time.

April 30

Andrew Meldrum, The Guardian
Lloyd Mudiwa, Daily News
Collin Chiwanza, Daily News

Geoff Nyarota, Daily News

Mudiwa and Chiwanza, both staff writers at the privately owned Daily News, were arrested by Central Intelligence Division officers at their Harare office in the early morning. Meldrum, a U.S. citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe who covers the region for the London-based The Guardian, was taken into custody at his Harare home at around 5:40 a.m. on May 1.

All three reporters faced 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. The journalists faced up to two years in prison and fines of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,820).

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which provided the information to the journalists, initially claimed that a pro-government youth militia had decapitated Brandina Tadyanemhandu in Mashonaland West Province. The MDC also alleged that the militiamen had 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 as a front-page story on April 30. The Guardian has since issued a statement acknowledging that the story was inaccurate.

On May 20, Daily News editor Nyarota was interrogated for several hours in connection with the same story before being released.

All three reporters were freed on May 2. Meldrum was acquitted on July 15 but was ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. He immediately filed an appeal against his deportation, which was heard on July 17. At the hearing, Justice Anele Matika suspended the deportation order and referred the matter to the Supreme Court. No date has been set for the hearing, and Meldrum is allowed to remain and work in Zimbabwe until the Supreme Court rules on his case. Charges against Chiwanza were dropped on May 7. Nyarota and Mudiwa appeared in court on October 28, and their case was postponed again until February 27, 2003.

May 6

Pius Wakatama, Daily News

Police arrested Wakatama, a reporter for the independent Daily News, at his home in the outskirts of the capital, Harare. Wakatama was charged on two counts of publishing false information and abusing journalistic privilege under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The charges stemmed from an article Wakatama wrote for the May 4 edition of the Daily News that expressed distress over the eviction of a black farming family from their property. The family had strongly opposed black minority rule under the former Rhodesian government and had supported the liberation movement. Zimbabwean officials denied that the farm was occupied.

Local sources say that Wakatama was also charged because in the article he referred to a story about the beheading of an opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporter, which later proved to be false. Wakatama was issued a “warned and cautioned” statement before being released. He was the eighth journalist to be arrested under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act since it was passed in March.

May 7

Assel Gwekwerere, Daily News
Aaron Ufumeli, Daily News

Gwekwerere, a reporter for the independent Daily News, and Ufumeli, a photographer for the paper, were briefly detained by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) in the capital, Harare, after they tried to photograph the arrest of a man suspected of being involved in a multimillion dollar scandal.

Gwekwerere and Ufumeli were arrested outside a hotel, where they were waiting to take a photograph of the suspected criminal, for whom the police had set a trap. The two said the police, who thought the journalists were with the suspect, handcuffed them and drove them to Highlands Police Station for questioning. Ufumeli told CPJ that during the detention, the CID asked him to destroy the pictures he had taken. The journalists were released later that day without charge.

May 16

Bornwell Chakaodza, The Standard
Farai Mutsaka, The Standard
Fungayi Kanyuchi, The Standard

Chakaodza, editor of the independent Sunday weekly The Standard; entertainment editor Kanyuchi; and journalist Mutsaka, were arrested by officers from the Criminal Investigations Department for allegedly writing “falsehoods” about the military and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).

In a May 12 article, Kanyuchi wrote that ZRP officers were extorting sex from arrested commercial sex workers as a condition of release from police custody. The story quoted Sergeant Mhondoro of Avondale Police Station as denying the allegations.

In the same edition of the weekly, Mutsaka had written a front-page story stating that the Zimbabwean government had acquired an assortment of anti-riot gear and military hardware from Israel. The story included a photograph of one of the riot vehicles the police had allegedly received. The reporter had contacted Home Affairs Minister John Nkomo, who refused to comment.

The three journalists were charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which prescribes a fine of up to 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,870) or a two-year jail sentence. On May 16, the journalists signed “warned and cautioned” statements and spent the night in police custody. They were released the following day. On December 5, the government dropped the charges against the three journalists.

May 28

Bornwell Chakaodza, The Standard
Fungayi Kanyuchi, The Standard

Chakaodza, editor of The Standard, and Kanyuchi, the paper’s entertainment editor, were charged with violating the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The charges stem from a May 26 article by Kanyuchi recounting his and Chakaodza’s experiences in police cells, where they had been held overnight on May 16.

Police said that the journalist’s description of the “blood-stained walls” in the cells was untrue and charged both Kanyuchi and Chakaodza with “publishing falsehoods.” They both signed “warned and cautioned” statements and at year’s end were awaiting a summons to appear in court.

May 30

Iden Wetherell, Zimbabwe Independent

Wetherell, deputy editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, was arrested and questioned about a wire service photo published in the newspaper’s May 17 issue of semi-naked Amazonian men wearing traditional clothes and playing soccer. Wetherell was subsequently charged under the censorship act for publishing pictures containing nudity.

According to Wetherell’s lawyer, the charges were brought against the editor following a complaint from a deputy police commissioner in charge of personnel. However, such charges cannot proceed without the written consent of the Attorney General’s Office, which had not consented at year’s end. This is the second time Wetherell has been charged with violating the colonial-era censorship act. In March 2000, together with the Trevor Ncube, the publisher of the weekly, Wetherell was charged but never prosecuted.

July 4

Chris Gande, Daily News

Gande, Bulawayo-based correspondent for the independent Daily News, was arrested and charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act for allegedly writing a false story. The June 29 article alleged that the government had not invited the family of late vice president Joshua Nkomo to attend a commemoration gala held in his memory.

Detectives from the Law and Order Section of the Criminal Investigations Department summoned Gande, who then signed a “warn and cautioned” statement. Gande said he stood by his story, saying that Nkomo’s daughter, Thandi, had given him the information. She later recanted her story.

August 28

Voice of the People

The offices of the private news production company Voice of the People (VOP), located in a suburb of the capital, Harare, were bombed.

According to several Zimbabwean and international reports, three men approached the VOP security guard outside the company headquarters at about 1 a.m. and told him not to struggle, warning him that “you don’t want to die for something you know nothing about.”

Two of the men then smashed the office’s windows and threw what appeared to be bombs inside the building. Soon after, an explosion occurred and the entire building was demolished. Although no one was hurt, all of the company’s equipment was destroyed.

VOP, which was founded by former employees of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, is an independent production company that produces programs on community and political issues. To bypass Zimbabwe’s tight media controls, the company sends their programs to a Radio Netherlands shortwave transmitter located in Madagascar, which broadcasts them across southern Africa. VOP was created during the run-up to the 1990 elections to counteract the state’s monopoly of the press.

VOP’s independent stance and large audience have angered the Zimbabwean government, which has accused the studio of “tarnishing” the country’s image. In July, members of the Zimbabwean Police Force, accompanied by officers of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe, raided VOP’s offices. They searched for a transmitter, broadcasting equipment, and other evidence that VOP was violating the Broadcasting Services Act of 2001, which bars stations from broadcasting without a license. The police did not find a transmitter but confiscated 133 tapes and files from the office, which they later returned.

The explosion is the fourth such attack on the independent media during the last two years. Since 2001, the Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily newspaper, has been bombed three times.