New York, February 15, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that Zimbabwean police repeatedly visited the offices of three senior freelance reporters for international publications on Monday and Tuesday.
Officials first said they were investigating espionage allegations against the journalists. Then they claimed they were looking into the reporters’ accreditation. Finally, the officers said they were investigating whether a satellite phone used by one of the journalists was licensed, according to their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.
CPJ sources fear that authorities are looking for a way to silence reporting to the outside world in the run-up to March 31 parliamentary elections.
The three reporters are Angus Shaw of the Associated Press (AP) and Jan Raath and Brian Latham, who both work for a number of British and South African news organizations, according to Mtetwa.
“CPJ is disturbed at this ominous development and calls on the government to cease its harassment of independent journalists,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper.
During a first visit on Monday morning, police said they were investigating allegations of spying, according to Mtetwa. They later came back to inquire about the journalists’ accreditation. The journalists informed the police that they had applied for accreditation but had not received any answer from the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC).
In the past, journalists in this situation could continue to work legally, but the rules are ambiguous, according to local journalists. Zimbabwe’s draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act requires all journalists to be accredited with the MIC or face up to two years’ imprisonment.
On subsequent visits Monday and Tuesday, police inquired about Shaw’s satellite phone and whether it was licensed, according to Mtetwa. They ordered that Shaw, who was not in the office at the time, be present on Wednesday to assist them with their inquiries.