Editor sent bullet in mail over cartoon critical of the army

New York, February 2, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists called on the authorities in Zimbabwe today to fully investigate a threat against veteran editor Bill Saidi who received a bullet in an envelope over a cartoon critical of the army.

Saidi, editor of the independent weekly The Standard, told CPJ that a brown envelope was hand delivered to his office in Harare on Wednesday containing a bullet and an unsigned hand-written note that read, “What is this? Watch your step.”

The envelope also contained a cartoon clipping from this week’s edition of the paper critical of the army and a March 2006 editorial of The Standard’s sister publication, the private weekly The Independent, which criticized the police and the intelligence service, Saidi added.

The Standard
is one of the few independent publications remaining in Zimbabwe since authorities shuttered most newspapers critical of the government of President Robert Mugabe.

“We condemn this outrageous threat against Bill Saidi, which must be seen in the context of Zimbabwe’s woeful record of intimidation and violence against journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to conduct a full and transparent investigation of this threat and bring those behind it to justice.”

Saidi, who reported the threat to the police, said he would continue working.
“We are not deterred. We will carry on with our reporting,” he said. After receiving the warning, Saidi received a letter from the army requesting a meeting with the paper, he added.

The cartoon clipping showed three baboons laughing over an army pay slip. The paper had alleged in its previous edition that many soldiers were deserting because of low pay, Saidi said. The editorial, titled “The shame of state paranoia,” criticized security forces over the arrests of members of an opposition party who were accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe but they were subsequently acquitted.

Saidi, the former editor of the private Daily News, was arrested in 2001 over a story critical of the police. This followed the bombing of the Daily News’ printing presses. No arrests were made in connection with the attack.

The government has used repressive media legislation, including the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), to harass and jail journalists, leading many to flee the country. The Gambia-based African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is expected to rule on a petition, submitted by local media rights groups, challenging these laws during its next session in May, according to media reports.