Two journalists arrested

New York, May 20, 2004—Two journalists from Zimbabwe’s independent weekly The Standard were arrested yesterday afternoon and detained for six hours. Editor Bornwell Chakaodza and reporter Valentine Maponga were charged with “publishing false statements prejudicial to the State” under Section 15 of the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

At least six police officers raided The Standard offices yesterday morning looking for Maponga, who was out on assignment, Assistant Editor David Masunda told CPJ. When Maponga returned in the early afternoon, he and Chakaodza were taken to a police station, where they were arrested and charged.

The arrests stemmed from an article Maponga wrote for the May 16 edition of the paper alleging that the family of a mining company executive who was recently murdered blamed senior government officials for plotting the man’s assassination.

After signing “warned and cautioned” statements, the two journalists were released in the evening. Chakaodza said that police told the journalists that they would be detained again after police interrogated the family members of the killed mining executive who were the sources for the story.

If convicted under Section 15 of POSA, the journalists face up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.

On May 3, CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the “World’s Worst Places to Be a Journalist.” More than a dozen journalists have been charged under POSA and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act since the two acts were passed in 2002. Many journalists have multiple charges pending against them. Chakaodza said that he has been arrested and charged six times since the legislation went into effect.

No journalist has yet been convicted for charges under the two acts.

Chakaodza is a former editor at the state-owned Herald newspaper. He was fired in 2000 after criticizing the government for using the newspaper as a propaganda organ for the ruling party. He has been editor of The Standard since March 2002.