In Zimbabwe, arrest warrant against veteran editor

New York, November 11, 2010–Zimbabwean police should withdraw an arrest warrant issued last week against exiled editor Wilf Mbanga concerning a 2008 story about the murder of an election official, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Zimbabwe Republic Police Chief Superintendent Andrew Phiri told CPJ on Wednesday that Mbanga, publisher of the The Zimbabwean newspaper, which is edited in London and South Africa and distributed in Zimbabwe, was wanted for an article “prejudicial to the state.”

The December 2008 story alleged that senior officials plotted the murder of Ignatius Mushangwe, director of training and polling for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Officials targeted Mushangwe because they suspected he leaked information to the media about ballot-rigging during the disputed 2008 presidential election, the story asserted.

Phiri said the story was untrue. Mushangwe’s strangled and partially burned body turned up in a mortuary in the capital, Harare, in October 2008 after his kidnapping four months earlier, according to news reports.

Mbanga told CPJ that The Zimbabwean, while it had covered the murder, had not published the story described by police. While the London-based Mbanga would not face immediate arrest, the warrant would be an impediment to his return to Zimbabwe.

“We condemn the police warrant against Wilf Mbanga as a form of intimidation distracting from the unsolved slaying of Ignatius Mushangwe,” CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita said. “We call on the power-sharing government to move forward by implementing promised media reforms, ones that are essential to a credible election in 2011.”

Since President Robert Mugabe announced that a new general election would be held in mid-2011, members of his ruling ZANU-PF have harassed several journalists covering pre-election activities, according to news reports.

Editor’s note: The fifth paragraph of this alert has been modified to include comments from Mbanga, who said the newspaper did not publish the story described by police.