Independent journalists detained and charged

New York, September 23, 2004—Two journalists and the general manager of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent were detained today for about six hours, charged under Zimbabwe’s repressive media law, and told to report back to police next Tuesday for a court appearance, according to local journalists and a defense lawyer for the three.

The charges stem from an article on why judgment has been postponed in the treason trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Editor Vincent Kahiya, reporter Augustine Mukaro, and General Manager Raphael Khumalo were arrested and taken to a police headquarters in the capital, Harare, where they were forced to sign “warned and cautioned” statements, defense lawyer Linda Cook told CPJ. She said they had been charged under Section 80 of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) with “publication of a statement that is injurious to the reputation, rights and freedoms of the State, recklessly or maliciously or incorrectly representing the statement as a true statement.”

Cook said the charge was brought by Judge Paddington Garwe, presiding judge in the treason trial of Tsvangirai, in connection with a July 30 article in the Zimbabwe Independent. The article said that the judgment in the Tsvangirai trial, which had been set for July 29, was postponed to give the two court assessors, who are supposed to be consulted on rulings, the opportunity to access the trial transcripts.

The charge sheet claims that the judgment, now set for October 15, was postponed for “other reasons.” CPJ sources said the issue was sensitive because some newspapers outside Zimbabwe have alleged that the judge had prepared a guilty verdict without consulting the assessors.

The Zimbabwe Independent is one of the country’s few remaining independent newspapers after the authorities closed the only independent daily, the Daily News, in September 2003. For the last four years, Zimbabwe’s government has pursued a relentless crackdown on the private press through harassment, censorship, and restrictive legislation. In 2004, CPJ named Zimbabwe one of the 10 worst places in the world to be a journalist.