New York, January 14, 2004—Itai Dzamara, a reporter with the Harare-based independent weekly The Independent, and the paper’s general manager, Raphael Khumalo, were arrested today after presenting themselves to police at Harare Central Police Station. Both were summoned yesterday to appear at the station for questioning this morning.
The arrests followed the publication of a story in the January 9 edition of The Independent co-authored by Dzamara alleging that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had commandeered an Air Zimbabwe plane for his trip to East Asia, thereby stranding passengers who were slated to fly on the plane between Harare and London. The piece also quoted a source saying that the plane carried containers for storage of goods Mugabe might acquire on his trip.
Dzamara was charged with criminal defamation before being released this afternoon. Khumalo was released today without charge.
Dzamara will likely appear with three other Independent journalists in court on January 29. Police arrested Independent Managing Editor Iden Wetherell, News Editor Vincent Kahiya, and reporter Dumisani Muleya on Saturday, January 10, also in connection with the January 9 article.
Information Minister Jonathan Moyo described the report as “blasphemous,” saying it was a “deliberate falsehood calculated to bring the office of the president into disrepute,” the BBC reported.
Muleya said that during interrogation by police, he was asked to reveal their sources but refused. The three journalists were charged with criminal defamation. On Monday, January 12, they were released on 20,000 Zimbabwean Dollars (US$25) bail each after appearing in court. Their next court hearing is scheduled for January 29.
Meanwhile, on January 13, the state-owned daily The Herald published an open letter from Media and Information Commission (MIC) head Tafataona Mahoso to Wetherell accusing The Independent of racism for publishing a letter to the editor claiming that Zimbabweans are stupid and comparing them to wild animals. Mahoso concluded the letter by writing, “All publishers and editors in Zimbabwe should consider this MIC statement as a warning to them as well and not just to the Zimbabwe Independent.”
The Independent editor disputed the claim that the column’s remarks were racist, saying the letter was a legitimate part of the national discourse on the country’s political and economic crisis. Wetherell said he believes that the MIC could use the racism charge as a pretext to deny registration to the publication or accreditation to its journalists.