New York, April 3, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by the detention in Harare today of New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak and calls for his immediate release.
“It is imperative that all journalists, foreign and domestic, be allowed to freely cover the important political situation unfolding in Zimbabwe,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to immediately release Barry Bearak and to stop intimidating all journalists.”
In a statement, the Times said that police had detained Bearak, a Johannesburg-based reporter who was in Zimbabwe to cover the country’s election. Executive Editor Bill Keller said a U.S. consular official, who had visited Bearak at the central police station, told the newspaper that he was being held for a “violation of the journalism laws.” Zimbabwe has one of the world’s most restrictive journalist accreditation laws, and has a record of using that law to suppress election coverage.
Keller described Bearak as “an experienced and respected professional who has reported from many places.” Bearak won a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for coverage of life in Afghanistan, the paper said.
CBC correspondent Adrienne Arsenault reported that she was briefly detained by police during the day. The Media Institute of South Africa, a press freedom organization, said a large contingent of police also descended on the York Lodge, a hotel where a number of foreign journalists had been staying. Reports that other journalists may have been detained have not been confirmed by CPJ.
President Robert Mugabe, who was clinging to power after 28 years as ruler, also moved against opposition party leaders today. The Associated Press reported that authorities raided a hotel used by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Delays in announcing the results of Saturday’s vote have caused mounting international concern. Zimabwe’s election commission has issued results in the parliamentary races—won by the opposition—but has yet to announce tallies in the presidential race. The opposition has claimed victory in the presidential vote. The first senate tallies were not issued until late today.
Last week, CPJ reported that the Zimbabwean government was using its journalist accreditation law—known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act—to prevent most major international media outlets and some local journalists from covering the country’s elections. Only a handful of foreign correspondents received accreditation, CPJ reported, even though a government spokesman told the pro-government daily The Sunday Mail that it had received about 300 accreditation requests.
The government has used the accreditation law in prior elections to jail foreign journalists.
In the run-up to parliamentary elections in March 2005, authorities arrested reporter Toby Harnden and photographer Julian Simmonds of London’s Sunday Telegraph on charges of working without accreditation. The two spent two weeks in jail before they were acquitted and allowed to leave the country. Authorities also arrested and deported Swedish television journalist Fredrik Sperling the day after the election, despite his accreditation.