Zimbabwean police arrested the editor of the privately owned weekly The Standard on Thursday over its publication of an opinion piece by a leading opposition politician.
Raphael Khumalo, chief executive of the Zimbabwe Independent Media group which publishes the pro-opposition paper, said Davison Maruziva faced charges over an April 20 article by Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The Standard has been highly critical of veteran President Robert Mugabe, as well as the political stalemate and violence that has followed a disputed March 29 election.
Results showed the ruling ZANU-PF lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since independence in 1980, and gave the main MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai the lead over Mugabe, 84, in a parallel presidential vote. But neither candidate won a majority, forcing a run-off.
The Standard has urged Tsvangirai, who says he won outright and accuses Mugabe of rigging the vote, to boycott the run-off.
Khumalo told Reuters the editor was picked up on Thursday.
“They are charging him with publishing false statements prejudicial to the state and contempt of court. … The police have also indicated that they will be referring the same charges on Arthur Mutambara,” he said.
In his article, written to mark Zimbabwe’s 28th independence anniversary last month, Mutambara sharply criticised Mugabe for his handling of the general election. It accused the government of intimidation and questioned its right to stay in office.
The two MDC factions recently put aside their differences and have agreed to work together again.
Iden Wetherell, group projects editor at the Zimbabwe Independent Media Group, said Maruziva’s arrest was a sign that the government was cracking down on the media.
“That represents a serious attack on press and political freedoms,” Wetherell said.
Several journalists have been arrested and then released since the elections. Global news and information company Reuters said on Thursday one of its photographers had been arrested for allegedly using a satellite phone to transmit pictures. The company has called for his release.
The MDC accuses Mugabe’s supporters of mounting a violent campaign to scare Zimbabweans into voting for him in the run-off. ZANU-PF says the opposition has carried out political attacks.
Western countries have called on African states to do more to end the turmoil in the once prosperous country whose economy is now in ruins. A flood of refugees and concerns about instability and violence have taken their toll on the region.
The African Union and regional grouping SADC sent teams to Zimbabwe this week, and called on all parties to participate in a run-off that is free and transparent.
“The fact that both of them (ZANU-PF and MDC) attribute the violence to the other means that there is an acknowledgement that there is violence taking place on all sides,” Ambassador Kingsley Mamabolo, head of the South African delegation to the SADC election observer mission, said on Wednesday.
“If that is the case, clearly something needs to be done. Indeed you cannot have the next round of elections taking place in this atmosphere. It would not be helpful.”
If Tsvangirai does not participate in the run-off, Mugabe will automatically win. A run-off date has not been set.