Exiled Zimbabwean editor shot, critically wounded

New York, July 27, 2007—Veteran editor Abel Mutsakani, one of dozens of Zimbabwean journalists forced into exile in neighboring South Africa, was shot in the chest on Monday after three unidentified men attacked him near his home in Johannesburg, according to news reports.

Mutsakani, editor of the South Africa-based Zimbabwean news Web site ZimOnline, still had a single bullet lodged near his heart but was resting at home today after four days in the hospital, his colleagues told CPJ. The bullet had also sliced through his left hand, they said. A police investigation was under way.

“Our thoughts are with Abel Mutsakani and we wish him a speedy recovery,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the police in Johannesburg to pursue all leads in its investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Mutsakani was shot by one of three unidentified men who approached him as he parked his car, according to news reports. None of the journalist’s personal belongings were taken. Mutsakani had not received any known threats, but a possible link between the attack and ZimOnline’s critical coverage of the Zimbabwean government could not be ruled out, lawyer Daniel Molokele, a ZimOnline founder, told CPJ.

ZimOnline is part of Zimbabwe’s exiled press. At least 90 Zimbabwean journalists live in South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, and in other African countries, according to CPJ research. Some left Zimbabwe because of political persecution, others because of restrictions placed on the press, such as the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which criminalized practicing journalism without a government license.

Launched in 2004 in South Africa by uprooted Zimbabwean journalists and lawyers, ZimOnline operates in an unmarked office for security reasons. Exiled reporters in Johannesburg say the proximity of the two countries has them worried that Zimbabwean government informants may infiltrate their community.

Mutsakani was the managing editor of Zimbabwe’s now-defunct leading independent, Harare-based Daily News, when authorities shuttered the publication in September 2003, according to ZimOnline. He also served as managing editor of the independent weekly Financial Gazette, also in Harare.