Zimbabwe attorney general urges releases; New York Times reporter still held

New York, April 4, 2008—Zimbabwe’s acting attorney general recommended today that the police release a foreign correspondent and another man accused of working as a journalist in custody since yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, police raided one of the hotels used by foreign journalists, the York Lodge in the Harare suburbs, and arrested New York Times reporter Barry Bearak and a British national. The two were accused of practicing journalism without accreditation, national police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena told Agence France-Presse. However, the office of the acting attorney general, Bharat Tateo, told the police there was no legal case against the two and recommended their release, Irene Petras, the director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, told CPJ.

“Zimbabwe has a history of using journalist accreditation laws as a means to prevent foreign journalists covering the country’s turbulent politics—it is a backdoor form of censorship,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the police to heed the attorney general’s recommendation.”

The Zimbabwean government used its restrictive journalist accreditation law, 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, CPJ reported on March 27. While a government spokesman told the pro-government daily The Sunday Mail that it had received about 300 accreditation requests, very few foreign journalists were given accreditation.

Since 2005, Zimbabwean authorities have used the accreditation law six times to jail foreign journalists and censor coverage.

Last year, South African journalist Peter Moyo of e-TV and Time magazine journalist Alexander Perry were detained for 48 hours for working without accreditation. CPJ research reveals a total of 26 cases of Zimbabwean authorities repressing foreign journalists in the country since 2000, including through beatings and detentions.   

Click here for a detailed history on Zimbabwe’s repression of foreign journalists since 2000.