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Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe speaks to supporters gathered to celebrate his 93rd birthday near Bulawayo, February 25, 2017. (Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

Zimbabwean journalists charged with insulting Mugabe

March 6, 2017 1:39 PM ET

New York, March 6, 2017--Zimbabwean authorities should immediately drop all charges against News Day editor Wisdom Mdzungairi and reporter Richard Chidza, and should cease threatening journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police initially asked Mdzungairi and Chidza to identify the sources of a March 2 article headlined, "Mugabe in fresh health scare," Mdzungairi told CPJ. When they refused, police arrested and charged the two with undermining or insulting the country's president, their lawyer, Obey Shava, told CPJ. If convicted, the two face a maximum sentence of one year in prison. After hours of questioning and paperwork, police released the journalists into Shava's custody on March 2 pending trial, the lawyer told CPJ.

"For too long governments have used laws on sedition, libel, and insult to try to limit legitimate reporting," CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal said. "Zimbabwean authorities should immediately drop the charges against Wisdom Mdzungairi and Richard Chidza and should stop hiding behind bad laws designed to muzzle the press."

Zimbabwe's constitution expressly protects journalists from being forced to expose their sources.

Chizda told CPJ that police called the two again today to ask them to reveal their sources, and that they again refused.

"The arrest itself is part of government scare tactics," Mdzungairi told CPJ, adding that he believed the government was trying to limit criticism ahead of presidential elections scheduled to take place next year.

"They wanted to know why we had written that story," Chizda told CPJ. "Zimbabwe is going through a transition and I think I have a role to play...The president is a public figure, and I think the country has a right to know what is afflicting the president."

Zimbabwean government spokesperson George Charamba did not respond to CPJ's repeated phone calls and text messages requesting comment.

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