Zimbabwean government threatens foreign correspondents

New York, March 23, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by a government press release issued on Thursday threatening foreign correspondents with unspecified government reprisal in the capital Harare over alleged biased reporting.

Prominent correspondents Jan Raath of the The Times of London and Peta Thornycroft of Britain’s Daily Telegraph and US-based broadcaster Voice of America were singled out among foreign media reporters accused of reporting “fabricated stories,” according to a statement by the Information and Publicity Ministry. “Should this not stop, government may be forced to act against them…,” it said.

The threats were linked to news reports alleging that Angolan paramilitary troops would be deployed to bolster the security forces of President Robert Mugabe in response to unrest in the aftermath of a March 11 opposition rally. “[The] Government is also aware of false stories on our arms security, stories which are being concocted by a group of western foreign correspondents mostly reporting for British papers,” according to the statement.

In an article published in The Times, “Angola sends ’Ninja’ paramilitaries to bolster Mugabe’s security forces,” Raath had quoted Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi as confirming the signature of a security cooperation agreement with Angola, according to CPJ research. But the government denied any pending deployment, according to international news reports.

“It is totally unacceptable to threaten two respected journalists like Jan Raath and Peta Thornycroft because of their reporting,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on authorities to allow all journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.”

The security situation has become tense in Zimbabwe after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and nearly 50 others were arrested and then allegedly beaten by police. In a March 19 interview with Thornycroft, Tsvangirai had accused Mugabe of orchestrating the violence, according to CPJ research. But in a subsequent interview published in the same report, Security Minister Didymus Mutasa denied the allegations, according to the same source.

Zimbabwe’s government has been hostile to many Western media outlets, registering only a few to operate inside the country, according to international news reports. It is not the first time the two journalists have been targeted by the government over their reporting. In February 2005, Raath left the country following official harassment. In 2002, Thornycroft was detained for 72 hours on suspicion of violating Zimbabwe’s harsh press laws.