Leading Zimbabwean lawyer detained

New York, May 7, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that a leading Zimbabwean lawyer working in defense of journalists was arrested today in the capital, Harare.

Harrison Nkomo remained in police custody late today after his arrest this afternoon for allegedly “undermining the authority or insulting the president,” according to his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. The accusations stemmed from a four-page complaint filed by Michael Mugabe, a government prosecutor, alleging that Nkomo had told him that the president should resign. Nkomo denied making the remark, according to Mtetwa.

“We’re extremely concerned about Harrison Nkomo,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We ask Zimbabwean authorities to drop these charges and release him immediately. Nkomo has done a heroic job of defending the rights of journalists in Zimbabwe, clearly at great personal risk. We hope he can soon resume this vital work.”

Michael Mugabe alleges that the comment was made during an informal conversation on May 2, shortly before a bail hearing for freelance journalist Frank Chikowore . Nkomo was defending Chikowore in a case being prosecuted by Mugabe. Nkomo also defended New York Times reporter Barry Bearak, who was jailed for working without accreditation. Several journalists were jailed in the aftermath of the contested March 29 election. Although President Robert Mugabe appeared to have lost that vote, he has held on to office and is seeking a runoff.

Michael Mugabe alleges that the defense lawyer told him that his “father” should step down. The prosecutor’s relationship with the president was not clear, Mtetwa said, although he is not believed to be Robert Mugabe’s son.