Two journalists released, another arrested

New York, April 16, 2008—CPJ welcomed the release of two foreign journalists from Harare today but remains concerned over Tuesday’s arrest of Zimbabwean freelance journalist Frank Chikowore. 

Award-winning New York Times journalist Barry Bearak and British freelance journalist Steve Bevan left the country today after Harare Magistrate Gloria Takundwa ruled that there were no legal grounds for their arrest. The two foreign journalists were arrested at the Yorke Lodge in Harare on April 3 and accused of practicing journalism without accreditation.

According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the magistrate added to her ruling that the police had detained the two journalists without an arrest warrant and contrary to the recommendations made by the acting attorney general.

“We welcome the release of Barry Bearak and Steve Bevan,” said CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon. “But the pattern of arbitrary arrests of journalists continues, with yesterday’s detention of another journalist in Harare. We call on Zimbabwean authorities to end this pernicious trend and release Frank Chikowore immediately.”

Bill Keller, the executive editor of the Times, said: “Barry’s family, friends, and colleagues are overjoyed that the court threw out the preposterous charges against him, and that he is on his way home. His only offense was honest journalism, telling Zimbabwe’s story at a time of tormented transition.”

According to local journalists, on April 15, Chikowore went to cover a strike organized by the opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change, which was demanding that the March 29 election results be released. A bus had been burnt in the area, Warren Park, earlier that morning, and Chikowore was arrested along with 14 others and accused of arson. He was frog-marched back to his house where police confiscated his laptop, camera, and voice recorder. The reporter is now under police custody at Harare Central Police Station, reported the Media Institute of Southern Africa and local journalists.     

Chikowore is expected to stand trial on Thursday, local journalists told CPJ.

Formerly a journalist with the government-shuttered The Weekly Times in 2005, Chikowore was arrested in 2005 for filming a police crackdown on street vendors in Harare’s central business district. He also runs a popular blog that covers the current election.

Two South Africans working for a satellite television service company were also arrested by Zimbabwean police on March 27, but were released yesterday and have returned home.