In Zimbabwe, purported list names 15 journalists for surveillance

New York, September 28, 2007—Several journalists have raised concerns about a purported government document that names 15 independent journalists to be “placed under strict surveillance and taken in.” The authenticity of the list—published Wednesday on the South Africa-based news Web site ZimOnline—was denied by the government, although at least three of the named journalists have been the targets of recent documented harassment.

In a series of interviews with CPJ this week, Zimbabwean journalists noted that similar lists, with shadowy origins, have circulated in the past. With presidential and parliamentary elections expected in 2008, some said, government operatives may be seeking to ratchet up tension in the press.

Veteran journalist Wilf Mbanga, founder and editor of the London-based The Zimbabwean, told CPJ that a confidential source e-mailed him a week ago a scan of a single-page document bearing the coat of arms of Zimbabwe and headlined “2008 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections.” The document, later obtained by CPJ, listed Mbanga and other individuals under the heading “Targeted Journalists” and accused them of “working hand in hand with hostile anti-Zimbabwe Western governments.” It refers to a separate page describing the specific actions to be taken against the individuals; MBanga said that page was missing from the e-mail that he received. The document bears the numerals “06-07,” perhaps indicating a date.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu denied the government produced such a document, according to local journalists. “The so-called hit list is a fake document meant to discredit the government. … There is no such policy in government,” new reports quoted him as saying.

“Zimbabwe has a long history of using its security services to intimidate the media,” said Joel Simon, CPJ executive director. “The authorities must investigate those behind this list of ‘Targeted Journalists’ and ensure the safety of all journalists.”

Journalists said they could not attest to the authenticity of the document, but the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists expressed concern in the aftermath of incidents in the past few months targeting three of the 15, Secretary-General Foster Dongozi told CPJ. Dongozi is among those named on the list.

Topping the list were veteran editor Abel Mutsakani of ZimOnline and The Zimbabwean reporter Gift Phiri. Mutsakani was critically wounded in an unsolved July shooting while Phiri was hospitalized for injuries from beatings during four days of police custody in April.Others listed included deputy editor Bill Saidi of the weekly Standard. Saidi was threatened in February when he received a bullet in an envelope.

The named journalists were expected to issue a joint statement on Monday, according to political editor Njabulo Ncube of the business weekly Financial Gazette.

Editors at The Zimbabwean, one of the leading news outlets in Zimbabwe’s exiled press, received a threatening document in April as well, when a purported “death list” arrived. “It’s not the first time,” Mbanga noted. “If a fake, it may be designed to cause unnecessary concern; if genuine, it’s not news that we are under surveillance,” he added. Last month, authorities passed a sweeping surveillance law authorizing the interception of all phone, Internet, and mail communications.