Reporters Without Borders strongly condemned a brutal attack against freelance journalist Gift Phiri, former reporter for the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, who was beaten up by men accusing him of working for media hostile to the government.
The attack came three weeks after threats were issued against those who contribute to foreign media by the minister in charge of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
“Forced into unemployment, threatened with prison and now beaten up: the fate Robert Mugabe reserves for independent journalists is more and more vicious,” said Reporters Without Borders.
“Given the timidity of certain African political leaders when it comes to criticising Zimbabwe, we call on African press freedom organisations to express their solidarity with independent journalists and to protest to the government in Harare.”
Phiri was brutally beaten, on 16 February 2006, when he was returning to his home in the eastern Harare suburb of Sunningdale, after watching a football match in a local bar. Five men jumped on him and beat him for about 20 minutes before leaving him for dead in front of his door.
The journalist, who was kicked and beaten with knuckle-dusters, was left with injuries to his face and ribs. Earlier in the day, he had noticed the presence of CIO men in the neighbourhood.
His assailants accused him of working for the US public radio Voice of America (VOA) and the privately-owned radio Voice of People (VOP). Phiri is currently unemployed given the steep reduction in jobs in the press after the closure of many independent newspapers.
The attack came three weeks after the State Security Minister, Didymus Mutasa, was quoted on 27 January by the government weekly Manica Post, published in Mutare, eastern Zimbabwe as warning journalists that “the net will soon close”. The minister, in charge of the CIO, said that some people were using pseudonyms to work for foreign media but the government had pinpointed their “closets”. He accused them of being “driven by the love of the United States dollar and British pound which they are paid by the foreign media houses to peddle lies.”