Stanley Karombo, a freelance journalist and student at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, was released on 21 April after paying a fine of 14 million Zimbabwean dollars (300 euros), Reporters Without Borders has learned from local sources. He was held for three days at Harare central police station before being freed.
Karombo was arrested on 18 April while taking notes during a speech that President Robert Mugabe gave at an independence day event at Gwanzura stadium in the Harare suburb of Highfield. Police at first accused him of violating the 2002 press law known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. As the charge could not be supported, they finally accused him of disturbing the peace.
22.04.2008 - Journalist reported missing as crackdown intensifies against independent press
Reporters Without Borders today voiced concern about the disappearance on 15 April of freelance journalist Stanley Karombo, as attacks on and arrests of reporters continued and the state-run media resumed a propaganda campaign on behalf of the government.
“Zimbabwean journalists are being exposed to great danger because of the failure of the community of African states to put pressure on the government of Robert Mugabe,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“Without commenting on the issue of the 29 March general elections, countries which still have the ear of the outgoing president should at least make some clear demands, particularly in connection with press freedom. It is not too late to prevent silence turning into complicity with tragic acts,” it added.
Stanley Karombo was seen for the last time on 15 April 2008 when he was covering a general strike called by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), of Morgan Tsvangirai. His colleagues have searched in vain for him at Harare police stations and police have said they do not know where the journalist is.
Edward Chikomba, a freelance cameraman and former contributor to public Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), was found dead on 31 March 2007, two days after he was snatched by unknown kidnappers who were suspected of being secret service agents.
Freelance journalist, Frank Chikowore, who also disappeared on 15 April this year from close to his home, was brought before a Harare court on 21 April, along with 27 MDC activists, allegedly for disturbing the peace. He has been accused of involvement in torching a bus, after initially being wrongly accused of working as a journalist without compulsory accreditation from the Media and Information Commission (MIC). The court today decided to remand all of the defendants in custody, with the aim of deterring any possible trouble makers.
Among the accused is also Luke Tamborinyoka, former editor of the banned newspaper, The Daily News, currently the MDC’s director of information. He spent 71 days in custody in 2007, during which he was ill-treated, accused of having thrown a petrol bomb at a police station. He was finally acquitted and released by a court in the capital.
Elsewhere, Matthew Takaona, president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) was clubbed and pistol-whipped by six soldiers, on 17 April, while he was in a shopping centre in Chitungwiza, 35 kms from Harare. His personal possessions were stolen.
In the past few days, monitoring carried out by the independent Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) showed that news coverage by public media remained partisan. Its monitoring of prime-time programmes showed in particular that the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) “maintained its silence on the presidential election results and even failed to conduct any programmes focusing on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission’s recounting of votes in 23 constituencies (outside its news bulletins)”.
The MMPZ also noted that it broadcast of two songs in support of the presidential party, Zanu-PF, by singer Elizabeth Chinouriri, who wore a t-shirt printed with a photo of Robert Mugabe.