Zimbabwean journalist Jeffrey Moyo is shown at the Harare Central Police Station on May 27, 2021, one day after his arrest on charges of violating Section 36 of the Immigration Act. (Doug Coltart)

Zimbabwe detains NY Times freelancer Jeffrey Moyo over alleged accreditation misrepresentation

New York, May 28, 2021 – Zimbabwean authorities should immediately release New York Times freelancer Jeffrey Moyo and drop baseless charges against him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Moyo, who also freelances for Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper and Norway’s Bistandsaktuelt, was arrested on May 26 in the capital, Harare, and charged with violating Section 36 of the Immigration Act for alleged misrepresentations to immigration officials about the accreditation status of two journalists from the New York Times, according to his lawyer Doug Coltart, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, and news reports.  

According to Coltart, the two Times colleagues–Christina Goldbaum and Joao Silva–who arrived from South Africa on May 5, were deported on May 8 because they allegedly did not have proper accreditation from the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

“Zimbabwean authorities must immediately release journalist Jeffrey Moyo, who should never have been detained, let alone charged,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “The fact that he was arrested, and his New York Times colleagues forced to leave the country, shows that Zimbabwe continues to violate the right to press freedom and the public’s right to know.”

New York Times spokesperson Nicole Taylor, in a statement emailed to CPJ just after publication, said, “We are deeply concerned by Jeffrey Moyo’s arrest and are assisting his lawyers to secure his timely release. Jeffrey is a widely respected journalist with many years of reporting experience in Zimbabwe and his detainment raises troubling questions about the state of press freedom in Zimbabwe.”

Yesterday, Moyo was transferred from Harare and today appeared in the magistrate’s court in the southern city of Bulawayo, along with his co-accused, Zimbabwe Media Commission official Thabang Manhika, where his lawyers applied for bail, Coltart said. Coltart told CPJ that Moyo denied the allegations. Moyo will spend the weekend in Bulawayo prison pending the magistrate’s bail ruling on Monday, he said.

Coltart told local news website Grazers News that police were alleging that the two New York Times journalists’ accreditation records were not appearing in the Zimbabwe Media Commission records. “That’s a purely internal matter for the commission to deal with and has nothing to do with our client,” Coltart told Grazers News. In the state’s request for remand presented to the court and viewed by CPJ, prosecutors allege that the accreditation was fake.

In a statement posted on Facebook and emailed to CPJ after publication, the Zimbabwe Media Commission alleged that two individuals “claiming to be New York Times reporters” had been deported after having obtained “forged” accreditation from “a properly accredited local reporter for the same New York Times with the alleged collusion of a ZMC member of staff.”

Contacted by phone yesterday, Zimbabwe police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi asked CPJ to forward an email so that a statement could be sent. CPJ did not receive a statement by the time of publication.

[Editor’s note: The text in the fifth paragraph has been updated with a statement from The New York Times and the text in the eighth paragraph has been updated with a statement from the Zimbabwe Media Commission.]