In a letter addressed to the Minister of Information, Jonathan Moyo, Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters Without Borders) expressed its concern at government threats against foreign journalists who may have entered the country illegally.
"These journalists applied for tourists visas only because they had no other choice to cover the news. We ask the government to give them accreditation and let them work freely" said Robert Ménard, RSF General Secretary. "With presidential elections due in March we fear that Zimbabwe is hardening its stance against the local and international press" added Mr. Ménard.
On 24 January 2002, according to information obtained by RSF, the government-controlled daily The Herald reported that the authorities were close to arresting British and South African journalists who had entered Zimbabwe on tourist visas. According to the daily, reporters from British newspapers The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Economist and the South African Sunday Times are somewhere in Zimbabwe. "Our net is closing on them and we should be able to account for all of them before the close of the day" said George C! haramba a spokesperson for the ministry of Information. Several foreign newspapers have had visas applications rejected in the past few weeks.
On the same day a journalist from Madagascar was turned back at Harare airport. Sahondra Randriamasimanana, a reporter for the magazine Capricorne, arrived on holiday in Zimbabwe to visit friends but she was held by police when she showed her passport which described her as a "journalist.
In 2001, Zimbabwe became one of the worst African countries in terms of press freedom. Twenty local journalists were arrested and three foreign press correspondents were expelled from the country. President Robert Mugabe is listed by RSF as one of the 39 "predators" of press freedom in the world. Throughout 2001, the president and his government frequently denounced members of the press in the strongest terms.