Reporters Without Borders today protested against a manhunt for a reporter for foreign news media, Cornelius Nduna, and a 14 February police raid on the Associated Press (AP) bureau in Harare in which Jan Raath, Tsvangirai Mkwazhi and Angus Shaw - all stringers for the AP and other foreign media - were threatened with arrest on spying charges.
"The government has once again shown that it likes to treat journalists as enemies of the state, this time just six weeks before parliamentary elections," the press freedom organizations said. "This paranoid behaviour in which the foreign press is routinely accused of spying for western countries is disgraceful and unacceptable at a time when Zimbabwe is meant to conform with the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) democratic criteria."
The manhunt for Nduna, who strings for several foreign newspapers and news agencies, was launched a week ago by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), Zimbabwe’s secret police. Failing to find him at his office, the CIO suspects he skipped the country with two "very sensitive" video cassettes that could be dangerous for the government if they fall into "enemy" hands, Nduna’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, told Reporters Without Borders.
Zduna supposedly got the cassettes from the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) with the help of an employee of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holding (ZBH). Mtetwa said they contain "sensitive" footage shot in "youth training camps" that train militia blamed for attacks and killings of members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) during the past three years.
These militia have in the past also burned many copies of newspapers such as The Independent, The Daily News, The Financial Gazette and The Standard and prevented them from circulating in rural areas.
Equipment for "spying"
In the raid on the AP bureau in Harare on the evening of 14 February, police interrogated the journalists present for two hours and were on the point of seizing satellite communication equipment which they said could interfere with state security transmissions. The police accused them of "spying" and of being "hostile" toward President Robert Mugabe’s government but calmed down when their lawyer, Mtetwa, arrived.
The police nonetheless insisted on checking the press accreditation status of Raath and Mkwazhi, who have applied to the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) but have not yet received their final accreditation. Under the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, journalists can be sentenced to two years in prison for working without MIC accreditation, but may carry on working if they have a receipt that shows they have applied.
Before leaving the police promised to come back and deal with "spies." They did return on 15 and 16 February but found no one present at the AP bureau. Mtetwa said her clients are now in a safe place.