Authorities seize independent publisher’s passport

New York, December 9, 2005—
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the seizure of the passport of Trevor Ncube, owner and director of Zimbabwe’s two remaining independent newspapers and of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian. Ncube was ordered to hand over his passport on Thursday when he landed in Zimbabwe at Bulawayo airport from South Africa to attend his brother’s wedding.

Ncube told CPJ he was on a list of government critics whose passports the immigration authorities have been ordered to seize. The list includes journalists and media lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who won a CPJ International Press Freedom Award in 2005.

“The existence of this list is an affront to basic rights including freedom of expression and freedom of movement,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “This is nothing short of a witch hunt against those courageous few who still dare publicly to criticize President Robert Mugabe’s regime and its repression.”

Ncube, who is based in Johannesburg, flies frequently between South Africa and Zimbabwe, where he is executive chairman of The Standard and The Zimbabwe Independent weeklies. He said he was not given any reason for the seizure, but was told to go to the regional passport office in Bulawayo today. There he was shown a letter dated November 28 and titled “Invalidation and Withdrawal of Zimbabwean Passports.” The letter was signed by the country’s chief immigration officer and stated that the passports of 17 people were “invalid” and should be withdrawn immediately.

Ncube said his lawyers were taking urgent action to challenge the passport seizure. “This is about a regime that wants to control the minds of people,” he said. “They are basically saying that you can’t speak out, because if you do, you will lose your passport.”

Mtetwa confirmed to CPJ that she had also seen the letter and that her name was on the list, along with media professionals and others. Most of the journalists named are currently in exile. They include Geoffrey Nyarota, former editor of the Daily News and also a former recipient of a CPJ International Press Freedom Award; Nqobile Nyathi, the last editor of the Daily News before it was closed in 2003; Lloyd Mudiwa, a former Daily News reporter; exiled broadcast journalist Caroline Gombakomba; and Basildon Peta, former news editor of the business weekly Financial Gazette and a former leader of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. Peta is now a correspondent for the London-based Independent in South Africa. The list also includes businessman and former Daily News owner Strive Masiyiwa, who is based in South Africa.

The government has used repressive legislation to close several newspapers, harass dozens of journalists and drive many into exile. Earlier this year it passed a constitutional amendment empowering it to seize travel documents of citizens deemed to be acting against the national interest.