Arrest of Independent newsmen condemned

Blessing Zulu

THE arrest of four journalists from the Zimbabwe Independent has been widely condemned and described as a flagrant affront to press freedom.



Helvetica, sans-serif”>On Saturday police arrested Independent editor Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and chief reporter Dumisani Muleya. The three, who spent two nights in police cells at Harare Central police station, were arrested on criminal defamation charges over a story published on Friday, which claimed that President Robert Mugabe had used an Air Zimbabwe plane for his Far East tour. The three were released on $20 000 bail each on Monday and will appear in court on January 29.


Police on Wednesday summoned group general manager Raphael Khumalo and reporter Itai Dzamara. They were charged with the same offence. But the state later withdrew charges against Khumalo.


Dzamara was yesterday granted bail at the Harare magistrates’ court.

The secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders Robert Menard said the year had started on a bad note.


“The year 2004 opened in the worst possible way for press freedom in Zimbabwe,” Menard said.


“Three journalists have already been arrested and police are still preventing the Daily News for reappearing despite a High Court order ruling in its favour,” he said.


“We are extremely concerned about the working conditions for Zimbabwe journalists and call on the authorities to pull back. The people have the right to diverse and independent news and information,” he added.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the fresh arrests compromise the independence and entrenched freedoms of the press.


“ZLHR views the action of the police as a calculated and deliberate attempt to muzzle the independent media and deprive Zimbabweans from fully enjoying the right to freedom of expression,” the body said.


ZLHR said it was concerned that if such a tragic trend was to continue, it would be impossible for journalists to continue carrying out their mandate to keep the public informed.


“Such repeated and now all too frequent attacks on the independent press are not only unfortunate, but also detrimental to press freedom,” ZLHR said.

ZLHR took a swipe at some individuals who have gone out of their way to prosecute journalists.


“ZLHR is also concerned that the harassment of the independent journalists might be preparatory steps, on the part of certain elements within the state that are fighting to muzzle the press, to forcibly shut down newspapers as they did with the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday. ZLHR criticises in the strongest terms such a blatant disregard of the independent press and demands that the press be left to freely perform its core function, that of informing the public.”


Amnesty International also rapped Zimbabwean authorities for ignoring court orders and the continued use of unconstitutional laws.


“Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed serious concern about the use of national legislation to suppress freedom of expression and silence dissent in Zimbabwe,” it said.


“Many of the provisions of newly enacted legislation such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act directly contravene Zimbabwe’s constitution and international human rights standards. In recent months the Zimbabwe authorities have stepped up attacks against independent media outlets and journalists.”


The United States government also condemned the arrests of the journalists and called on the government to cease harassment of the independent press.