President Robert Mugabe is on Reporters Without Borders’ list of the world’s worst predators of press freedom. Throughout the year the state president and his government made shattering declarations to the press. Information minister Jonathan Moyo proved to be particularly good at the game: in September 2001 he accused the BBC and the British dailies The Guardian and The Telegraph of "working for the British intelligence services", adding that "in the interests of respect for the law, the competent authorities will track down these individuals and put an end to the media jungle they are trying to create". A few weeks later he denounced journalists who practise "economic terrorism".
The Daily News, the only independent daily in the country, has been a constant victim of harassment by the authorities. Managing editor Geoffrey Nyarota was arrested several times during the year. The government and the ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front) repeatedly lodged complaints against the daily and demanded large sums in damages in an attempt to financially strangle the newspaper. The government-owned daily The Herald attacked The Daily News several times, trying its utmost to convince public opinion that the private-sector daily was operating illegally.
The difficult economic situation and violence between white farmers and war veterans from the liberation struggle have prompted the government to step up repression against the most critical publications.
In March the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, urged President Mugabe to guarantee freedom of expression and association. "You, who have struggled for freedom in your country, should understand the importance of free media, including an independent local press", she wrote in a published letter. Late in June the European Union (EU) foreign affairs ministers expressed their concern about the political situation in Zimbabwe. In particular, the EU called on the country’s leaders to observe press freedom and independence of the courts. A few days earlier the US government accused the Zimbabwean authorities of "preventing the press from reporting what was happening inside the country".
Aware of the prime importance of the media in the run-up to the presidential elections scheduled for the first half of 2002, President Robert Mugabe reinforced his control over public-sector media. Early in 2001 he appointed close supporters to key posts in the national Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and dismissed the managing editors of those government-owned newspapers which he considered were not supportive enough of his policies. The two journalists’ unions in the country, the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe and the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists, denounced the manipulation of public media in the run-up to the presidential elections.
Twenty journalists arrested
On 26 April 2001 plainclothes intelligence service agents arrested three freelance photographers. The reporters - who preferred to remain anonymous - were taking photos of President Robert Mugabe on a visit to the Zimbabwe international trade show. They were taken to the Bulawayo police station, in south-western Zimbabwe, and detained until the next day. One of the photographers said the policemen asked them what they "intended to do with the photos".
Zvikomborero Sibanda, journalist, and Brighton Madzamiri, photographer with the government-owned The Chronicle, were arrested by Bulawayo police on 22 May. The two men had tried to get into the hospital in which the leader of the Zimbabwean war veterans, Chenjerai Hunzvi, was being treated. Their films were confiscated and they were released later in the day.
Police arrested Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, photographer with The Daily News, on 6 June and detained him for a few hours at Harare central police station. He was accused of "behaviour intended to disturb the peace" and released after paying a small fine. The journalist and one of his colleagues from The Daily News, Columbus Mavhunga, were covering a student march towards the education and technology ministry when police officers hit them before dispersing the demonstrators. Their equipment was confiscated. The students were protesting against a government decision to increase registration fees for the next academic year.
Chris Mazivanhanga, cameraman for the US agency Associated Press, Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, photographer for The Daily News, and Cornelius Nduna, journalist with the weekly The Standard, were arrested on the morning of 3 July while taking photos of three delivery trucks that had been burned out in Budirio, a suburb of Harare. This incident followed a 48-hour general strike organised by ZCTU, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, to protest against petrol price hikes decided by the government in June. The three journalists were accused of hindering police action. They were held in police custody overnight and released the next morning.
The Daily News managing editor Geoffrey Nyarota was arrested on 14 August at midnight at his home by policemen who took him to Harare central police station. The next day three other members of the editorial staff - Bill Saidi, deputy editor-in-chief, John Gambanga, news editor and Sam Munyavi, reporter - were also arrested. They were accused of publishing a story headed "Police vehicles used in plundering of farms". The Daily News stated in this report that ZANU-PF supporters and war veterans used police vehicles to plunder and destroy farms belonging to Whites in north-western Zimbabwe. The newspaper quoted an anonymous farmer: "They steal the maize. They take television sets and video-cassette recorders and throw them into swimming pools. [...] The situation is terrible. Some of them drive police vehicles". On the evening of 15 August the four men were released on orders of the high court but were charged with "publishing false news".
On the same day Lawrence Chikuwira and Mduduzi Mathuthu, journalists at the Bulawayo office of The Daily News, were arrested. They had written an article claiming that demonstrators had left a march organised to commemorate "Heroes Day" after Vice-President Joseph Msika asked them to chant slogans paying homage to ZANU-PF. The two journalists were released in the evening.
Police arrested Wallace Chuma, news editor with the weekly The Zimbabwe Mirror, on 21 August for an article published a few days earlier about war veterans’ responsibility in the plundering of farms belonging to Whites. Constantine Chimakure, journalist with The Zimbabwe Mirror and author of the article, had gone to West Mashonaland where many farms had been plundered. The article reported that only two veterans had been arrested whereas many farm labourers had been arrested for "theft". Wallace Chuma was released during the day.
Mark Chavunduka, editor-in-chief of the weekly The Standard, was arrested and detained for several hours on 22 August for "criminal libel". He had published an article on 19 August headed "Mugabe the paranoiac dines with a ghost", in which he wrote that the state president was haunted by the ghost of former freedom fighter Josiah Tongongara killed in a car accident in 1980, a few months before independence. The journalist was interrogated throughout the day by the police before being released. The same article was also published in the British newspaper The Sunday Times. The next day the authorities threatened to punish any journalist who "tarnished" the security forces’ image.
Mduduzi Mathuthu from The Daily News and Loughty Dube, from Zimbabwe Independent, were arrested on 8 September and detained for an hour. Their press cards were confiscated and they were accused of inquiring at a police station about the arrest of a member of parliament from the MDC, the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party. Njabo Ncube, journalist with the Financial Gazette, was also heard in connection with the same affair.
At 6 a.m. on 8 November Geoffrey Nyarota of The Daily News and Wilf Mbanga, founder of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ), the press group that publishes the daily, were arrested by police at their homes. They were taken to the CID (criminal investigation department) where they were questioned on changes in the shareholding of ANZ. On 26 October four of the group’s main shareholders had been detained briefly by the police who questioned them on the possible buy-out of shares in the press group by a company close to the main opposition party. The two men were released on bail on 9 November, in the afternoon. They have to report to the police station every week.
On 18 November police arrested Mduduzi Mathuthu and Grey Chitiga from The Daily News in Bulawayo. The daily was about to publish an interview with a local MDC activist who said he had details on the recent murder of Cain Nkala, a war veteran. The police asked the journalists to give them a photo of the opponent and to testify against him. They refused but were nevertheless released the next day, in the evening.
Eleven journalists attacked
Julius Zava, journalist with The Daily News, was assaulted by police on 16 January 2001 for publishing articles stating that the death of Laurent-Désiré Kabila was "a good thing for Zimbabwe, which had spent millions to help its ally".
A week later, on 23 January, war veterans and ZANU-PF militants went to the Daily News head office and chanted hostile slogans. When they saw Julius Zava and other Daily News reporters under police escort they tried to grab the journalist but the police were able to push them off. Shortly afterwards they managed to grab him. They dragged him for a few meters and beat him up until he managed to escape. Earlier that month the war veteran leader Chenjerai Hunzvi had said that the daily ought to be "banned from the country".
In April Samuel Mungadze, journalist with The Standard, was assaulted by youths thought to be ZANU-PF supporters, in Ruwa, a small town 30 km from Harare. The journalist was investigating complaints by farmers in the area who had allegedly been forced to attend independence celebrations. The assailants accused the journalist of working for an anti-governmental newspaper.
Three journalists with the weekly The Zimbabwe Mirror, Constantine Chimakure, Hebert Zharare and Shandu David, and a student in journalism at Zimbabwe university, Sinikiwe Msipa, were assaulted by police while trying to cover riots in Harare. The police hit them and confiscated their film. A soldier pointed his gun at Constantine Chimakure and threatened to "blow his head off".
Mduduzi Mathuthu, a Bulawayo-based reporter for The Daily News, was assaulted by war veterans in front of policemen who did nothing to stop them. They accused the journalist of having a critical tone regarding the land redistribution programme. He was left with a cut above the left eye and pains in his chest.
Mduduzi Mathuthu and Collin Chiwanza, reporters from The Daily News, Urgina Mauluka, photographer with the same newspaper, and their driver were assaulted by war veterans in Hwedza, 60 km south-east of the capital. The journalists had gone to a farm after the death of two war veterans in clashes with a white farmer. Several veterans accused the journalists of being "sent by the English and the MDC". The journalists, who were kicked, said they were saved by a Zimbabwean army soldier who was guarding the place and threatened to shoot the assailants. The journalists sustained multiple bruises. Their equipment and camera were taken by their assailants. Two reporters with the government-owned The Herald who went to the same farm at the same time were not attacked.
The Daily News reported on 5 November the assault of freelance photographer Philemon Bulawayo by Darlington Hari, a CID agent. The photographer had gone to cover the officer’s trial in Harare in an embezzlement case. The officer demanded the photos that Philemon Bulawayo had taken and threatened to hit him if he did not hand them over.
Cyrus Nhara, photographer for the company Artvak Productions, was attacked by the crowd during a demonstration on 30 November outside the presidential residence. The journalist was bruised on the face and his film was destroyed. One hundred copies of The Daily News, Zimbabwe Independent and Financial Gazette were destroyed. According to The Daily News, whose offices were occupied and ransacked by the crowd, the demonstration was organised by a ruling party member of parliament and a former deputy mayor of Harare.
Five journalists threatened
On 22 August 2001 Basildon Peta, correspondent for the British daily The Independent, claimed that his name was on a "hit list" drawn up by the authorities. On 23 August he was summoned by the police. Other names on the list were reportedly Geoffrey Nyarota, managing editor of The Daily News, Iden Wetherall, managing editor of Zimbabwe Independent, Mark Chavunduka and Cornelius Nduna, respectively editor-in-chief and news editor of The Standard. On 24 August two United Nations special rapporteurs, Asma Jahangir (in charge of arbitrary executions) and Abid Hussain (in charge of freedom of opinion and expression) reported their concern for the lives of these five journalists.
Pressure and obstruction
Three prison guards destroyed the film of Daily News photographer Tsvangirai Mukwazhi on 10 January 2001 when he tried to take a photo of Agnes Rusike, leader of a movement to occupy farms in the Norton area, on his arrival at the Norton court. The three men jumped at the journalist and ordered him to hand over his film or face arrest. They seized his camera and exposed the film to daylight. On 14 February the Harare prosecutor condemned the three guards for "damage to property".
On the night of 27 to 28 January a bomb exploded in the building occupied by the printing press of The Daily News in Southerton, a suburb of Harare. Nobody was injured but the printing equipment was seriously damaged, making it particularly difficult for the daily to appear. No one claimed responsibility for the attack. On 22 April 2000 a bomb had exploded on the ground floor of the daily’s offices and on 28 January 2001 several thousand copies of newspapers were burned in the capital. Copies of The Daily News were burnt by ruling party activists while copies of the government-owned newspapers The Herald and The Sunday Mail were destroyed by demonstrators hostile to the government. On 3 February police prohibited a demonstration of journalists supporting The Daily News.
In eastern Zimbabwe about 50 war veterans and ZANU-PF members took the Mutare offices of the weekly The Observer by storm on 1 February. Their intention was to intimidate Shadreck Beta, the managing editor, whom they accused of publishing articles criticising the government and ruling party. The assailants sang songs to the glory of the party and asked Shadreck Beta not to be authorised to publish the weekly.
On 17 February Harare BBC correspondent Joseph Winter received an expulsion order from the immigration services, stating that the immigration ministry had "changed the rules for journalists’ accreditation". The next day unknown individuals tried to break into the journalist’s home. He and his family took refuge at a diplomat’s home. Although Joseph Winter’s work permit had just been renewed and was to expire in February 2002, he was ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. The high court asked for an extension but the government refused. Mercedes Sayagues, South African correspondent for The Mail and Guardian, also received an expulsion order while she was in South Africa for two days. The journalist was refused entry into Zimbabwe on 17 February at Harare international airport. She was eventually allowed back so that she could see her daughter, but was ordered to leave the country within 24 hours. "What was done to my daughter and myself is illegal, unreasonable and unnecessary, but it’s not worse than what is done to the people of Zimbabwe. It’s a government that’s prepared to trample over the law, to destroy the economy and to violate human rights", the journalist commented to Agence France-Presse. On 19 February Joseph Winter left Zimbabwe and three days later Mercedes Sayagues returned to South Africa.
In its 2 April edition The Daily News reported that one of its journalists, Pedzisai Ruhanya, had been prevented from working during the elections of local ZANU-PF leaders. Two war veterans and party members confiscated his press card and threatened to kill him if he wrote an article on the election. They accused him of spying for the opposition parties and of being "an enemy of the war veterans and ZANU-PF".
On 4 April a restrictive broadcasting law was passed. The Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe was created to examine applications for licences granted by the information minister. In terms of this law, broadcasting licences, issued for two years, can be suspended or cancelled at any time by the minister. The law also provides for only one national radio station and television channel - apart from those controlled by the government - which furthermore have to devote at least one hour per week for the government to present its policies. Foreigners and non-residents may not hold shares in broadcasting companies and a single person may not own more than 10% of a company.
On the same day Geoffrey Nyarota of The Daily News, Julius Zava, journalist and Reporters Without Borders correspondent, and Sandra Nyaira, journalist with the same daily, were accused of libel against the state president and the president of the national assembly. In a series of articles published in November 2000 they had made a connection between several senior political officials and a financial scandal concerning the construction of a new airport near Harare. According to the daily, these officials received large sums of money from the company that wanted the contract. Part of the money allegedly passed through a private company and the commercial division of the ruling party used it for the construction of a new residence for President Robert Mugabe. Geoffrey Nyarota was summoned by the police for questioning.
On 6 June the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Board (the board of directors of the public-sector channel ZBC) banned the broadcasting of a programme of live debates on national TV. The programme, "Talk to the nation", had already been broadcast three times. Viewers had participated live to criticise the state president and his government. The members of the ZBC board are appointed by the information minister.
The government announced on 13 June that foreign journalists had to apply to the information ministry for accreditation at least one month before their entry into the country. Travel arrangements were not to be made without the ministry’s approval. No application would be processed from foreign correspondents already present in Zimbabwe. The latter had to leave the country and to file a new application for accreditation from their home country. The information minister said that the government’s new policy aimed at encouraging the foreign media to employ local journalists as correspondents in order to fight unemployment.
On 20 June Information minister Jonathan Moyo refused to grant three BBC correspondents accreditation to film the solar eclipse in Zimbabwe. According to the minister, the journalists did not apply a month before their trip.
On 27 June the authorities refused to renew the work permit of David Blair, Harare correspondent of the British newspaper Daily Telegraph, who had been working in Zimbabwe since 1999. The information minister explained that the refusal was for "purely administrative" reasons. The journalist left the country a few days later.
The governor of Manicaland province in eastern Zimbabwe expelled Patrick Mwale of The Daily News and Muchaneta Manyengavana of the Financial Gazette from a meeting on land redistribution on 19 July. The reason given was that government officials had to discuss "sensitive issues". Journalists from the state-controlled ZBC and Zimbabwe Inter Africa News Agency (ZIANA) were allowed to cover the meeting.
On 25 July the government decided to no longer grant accreditation to BBC journalists, "until further notice". This decision followed a report by Rageh Omaar, special correspondent for BBC World, on President Robert Mugabe’s speech at the opening of parliament on 24 July. According to the journalist, the president undertook to continue his policy of forcefully acquiring land from white farmers. The authorities claimed that the president had not talked of "forced acquisition" but of "legal acquisition". In a letter to Milton Nkosi, head of the BBC Johannesburg office, in South Africa, the information minister said that "the time has come for the BBC to follow the same professional rules and code of conduct in Zimbabwe as in Britain".
On 19 October the managing editor of the privately-owned weekly Zimbabwe Independent, Trevor Ncube, went out onto the streets of Harare himself to sell copies of his publication. He thus wished to protest against police harassment of vendors of the weekly. "Every week about 20 of our vendors are arrested by the police" said the journalist a few meters from President Robert Mugabe’s office. "This is part of a strategy to cause our sales to drop and to limit the dissemination of news judged critical by the government" he added. A police spokesperson described his act as a "publicity stunt".
Mduduzi Mathuthu, journalist with The Daily News, was expelled from a meeting in Bulawayo on 3 November, on orders of the information minister, Jonathan Moyo. The journalist had asked a question that contradicted some of the minister’s allegations.
The government daily The Herald affirmed on 6 November that The Daily News would have to "cease operating" for not having reported a change within its shareholding, in accordance with the law. Geoffrey Nyarota, managing editor of The Daily News, denied this information and denounced his rival’s attempt to "destabilise" the only independent daily in Zimbabwe.
On 21 November the government announced its intention to table a bill on security and public order. The bill provides for life imprisonment or capital punishment for "acts of terrorism". The publication of "false news" likely to "disturb public order" would be liable to a heavy fine and a five-year jail sentence. A few days later the government approved a second bill to set up a regulatory authority for the media. These two bills are to be debated and voted in parliament in 2002.
On 23 November the government published a list of six names of foreign correspondents based in Zimbabwe, accused of assisting terrorist activities in the country. "We agree with President Bush on the fact that whoever finances, protects or defends terrorists are themselves terrorists [...] These reporters not only deform facts, they also help terrorists", noted the government spokesperson. Four correspondents of British newspapers are on the list: Jan Raath of The Times, Peta Thornycroft of The Daily Telegraph, Andrew Meldrum of The Guardian, and Basildon Peta of The Independent. The two others are Angus Shaw of the US agency Associated Press and Dumisani Muleya with the South African newspaper Business Day. A South African human rights activist is also on the list.
On 27 December youths from the ruling party destroyed hundreds of copies of The Daily News in Masvingo, a town in south-eastern Zimbabwe. They claimed to be protesting against "the lies published" by the daily. Vendors were also threatened and assaulted by the party militants.
President Robert Mugabe has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders