Suspicious break-in at Zimbabwe newspaper

New York, April 29, 2011The Zimbabwe Republic Police should consider all possible leads, including a political motive, in investigating a break-in at the offices of leading independent daily NewsDay on Monday in which computer hard drives of senior editorial staff were stolen, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

Intruders took NewsDay Editor Brian Mangwende’s laptop and stole the hard drives of the computers belonging to 11 senior editorial staffers in the paper’s newsroom in Harare, Mangwende, told CPJ. Mangwende, who writes a critical column on current affairs, said the computers contained sensitive information on stories journalists were working on. Two of the journalists whose computers were targeted were Assistant Editor Wisdom Mdzungairi and Senior Parliamentary Reporter Veneranda Langa. Both were summoned for interrogation by the military on April 19. They were questioned about their sources for a story on the health of Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, according to news reports.

Zimbabwean Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu condemned the Easter Monday evening attack on the newsroom. “Such behavior is diabolic, but it is also a warning to all media houses to step up their security so that such people don’t have access to important information,” NewsDay quoted him as saying. “The one who did this is against freedom of speech and expression (and) against dispensation to have many voices and is against democracy,” he added.

“We are heartened that Zimbabwean Information Minister Webster Shamu has publicly condemned this attack targeting the computers in the newsroom of NewsDay,” said CPJ Africa Advocacy Coordinator Mohamed Keita. “Zimbabwean authorities must ensure that investigations into this incident are thorough and credible and address reasonable suspicions of a politically motivated attack.”

Mangwende told CPJ that he believes the aim of the break-in was to paralyze the production of the paper. “We will not be deterred by these criminals who are not merely targeting the property of NewsDay, but freedom of the media,” he said.