The international community took issue with Zimbabwe’s worsening social and economic situation and many human right violations in early 2002, referring often to the particularly critical problems for freedom of expression. The European Union adopted targeted sanctions on 18 February, banning visits by President Mugabe and 19 other senior officials and freezing their assets in EU countries. The United States adopted similar sanctions a few days later. President Mugabe was re-elected with 56 per cent of the vote at the start of March.
The struggle continued between the political and judicial authorities within the country. President Mugabe, information minister Jonathan Moyo and the police constantly targeted the independent and opposition news media with complaints and arrests. The judiciary, especially the high court, watched over journalists’ rights and tried to ensure they were not imprisoned. This resulted in an ambiguous situation in which journalists maintained a substantial degree of freedom while being incessantly harassed and threatened by the authorities and government supporters.
Tired of the harassment, a number of journalists left the country to set up independent news media based abroad. Two radio stations established in Britain and the Netherlands beamed programming to Zimbabwe, incurring the wrath of a government that was incensed by the existence of news media out of its control. The information minister went so far in January as to formally ask the European Union to put pressure on the British and Dutch government to stop "sponsoring" radio stations broadcasting on short wave to Zimbabwe, especially the Voice of the People and SW Radio Africa . These two stations represented "the biggest threats to peace and stability in the region," the minister claimed.
The Mugabe regime had its sights on the foreign press as well. Several foreign correspondents were forced to leave the country in 2002 because their accreditation was not renewed. In January, the BBC vigorously defended its coverage of Zimbabwe and urged the authorities to let its correspondents work freely in the country. The government on several occasions refused to issue visas to British radio and TV reporters. Many other foreign news media and press freedom organisations, including Reporters Without Borders, were also barred from visiting the country.
The hostility to foreign journalists at times turned into a manhunt. The government daily The Herald reported at the end of January that the authorities were on the point of catching British and South African journalists who had entered the country on tourist visas. "The net is closing on them and we should be able to find them before the end of the day," said George Charamba, an information ministry spokesman. The targeted journalists left the country at once.
The radio and TV stations of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) just relayed government propaganda. During the campaign for the presidential election in March, the bias in favour of the incumbent Robert Mugabe and the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) was flagrant. ZBC put out dozens of reports denigrating the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Two laws passed in 2002 made it easier for the government to silence its critics. The Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act set heavy prison sentences for press offences, and gave the authorities considerable leeway by defining the offences vaguely. Almost any criticism of the government could be construed as "publication of false information" or "abuse of journalistic privileges," offenses subject to a sentence of two years in prison. The United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression said on 1 February that these provisions violated article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a party.
Two journalists imprisoned
Moses Oguti, editor in chief of the Botswana-based magazine Trans-Kalahari, was arrested and taken to Mutare prison (east of Harare) on 17 February 2002. He was not told of any charge, but the authorities said he entered Zimbabwe illegally across the border with Mozambique after being denied entry at a border post. He was freed on 23 April, after 65 days in detention, and given three days to leave the country.
Peta Thornycroft, Harare correspondent of The Daily Telegraph of London, was arrested in Chimanimani (480 km. southeast of the la capital) on 27 March and accused of "false news" and incitement to violence after investigating political violence against the opposition MDC. A high court judge found the charges to be baseless on 31 March. She was released and the charges were dropped. A Zimbabwean, Thornycroft said she would sue the police for unjustified arrest and imprisonment, and would also sue the state broadcaster ZBC for reporting, while she was imprisoned, that she used her reporting to try to destroy her own country.
32 journalists detained
A BBC contributor, Thabo Kunene, was detained for one hour on 29 January 2002 by police in Lupane (about 100 km from Bulawayo) for "threat to the zone’s security." Police confiscated a cassette.
Rhodeh Mashavave and Foster Dongozi of the privately-owned Daily News and Cornelius Nduna of the privately-owned weekly The Standard, were detained on 30 January in Harare when a dozen anti-riot police dispersed about 40 Zimbabwean and foreign journalists who were demonstrating against the new press law. They were held in a police station in the capital and questioned by police for about five hours before being freed.
Basildon Peta, Harare correspondent of The Independent of London and general secretary of the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists (ZUJ), was detained at Harare central police station on the night of 4 February, accused of organising an illegal protest on 30 January against the new press law. He was the first journalist to be arrested under the new Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The charges were quickly dropped after the attorney general said the law did not require a union such as the ZUJ to get police permission to hold a demonstration. Peta resigned as editor in chief of the Financial Gazette and fled to South Africa on 15 February saying he no longer felt safe after being the target of a series of attacks in the state-owned news media, which accused him of exaggerating the length and conditions of his detention in an article for The Independent. He was suspended as ZUJ general secretary on 21 February.
Newton Spicer of the TV news agency Spicer Productions was detained and his camera was taken on 18 February in Harare when he was filming ZANU-PF activists throwing stones at the office of the opposition MDC. The police said his accreditation was not in order. He was released after five hours.
Two journalists with the same agency, Edwina Spicer and Jackie Cahi, were arrested on 25 February in Harare and held for 20 hours after filming the State House, which houses the offices of the president. They said they were detained because of the footage they took of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai going to a police station after being accused of treason. Edwina and Newton Spicer, and Calvin Dondo, a photographer with the agency Panapress, were detained when covering a demonstration on 6 April and were held for several hours at Harare central police station. Dondo was hit and his camera was seized.
Geoffrey Nyarota, managing editor of the privately-owned Daily News, was taken to Harare central police station and questioned for three hours on 15 April. He was charged with "publication of false news" and "abuse of journalistic privileges," punishable by a fine of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (about 2,000 euros) and two years in prison under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The charges were prompted by the newspaper’s reporting of the shortcomings and inconsistencies of registrar general Tobaiwa Mudede in the presidential election. At a press conference on 10 April, Mudede gave different results from those announced on national television a few days after the polling, on 13 March, and had a Daily News journalist ejected from the room when he asked the reason for the changes. The next day, the Daily News headlined one of its stories: "Mudede circus continues."
Dumisani Muleya, a reporter with the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, was detained and questioned for four hours on 15 April, and accused of " criminal defamation" of Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, in a report that said her brother had asked her to help in a labour dispute with a food industry company. Iden Wetherell, the weekly’s editor in chief, was also charged on 17 April with "criminal defamation" and "abuse of journalistic privileges." Both were released but the charges were maintained and they were awaiting trial.
Daily News reporters Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza were arrested on 30 April and The Guardian of London’s correspondent, Andrew Meldrum, a US resident of Zimbabwe, was arrested the next day. Held in Harare central police station, all three were accused of "abuse of journalistic privileges" for reporting a week earlier that ZANU-PF activists had beheaded a woman in a village in northwestern Zimbabwe. The Daily News had already acknowledged there was no proof of the allegation and had published an apology to ZANU-PF. The three were provisionally released on 2 May. Pius Wakatama, a political reporter with the Daily News, was arrested and charged in the same case on 6 May and was released the same day. A judge announced the next day that charges had been dropped against Chiwanza. A Harare court found Meldrum not guilty on 15 July. A few minutes after the verdict was announced, immigration officers approached Meldrum, gave him an expulsion order, and told him he had 24 hours to leave the country. The high court suspended the expulsion order two days later on the grounds that Meldrum had a right under the constitution to live and work in Zimbabwe. Mudiwa had still not been tried at the end of 2002.
Daily News reporter Brian Mangwende was briefly detained by police in Mutare (in the east of the country) and questioned about a report on violence against teachers which said some teachers paid former guerrilla fighters and young members of the ruling party for "protection." He was released a few hours later.
Bornwell Chakaodza, editor in chief of the privately-owned weekly The Standard and two of his reporters, Farai Mutsaka and Fungayi Kanyuchi, were detained on 16 May and taken to Harare central police station. They were accused of "abuse of journalist privileges" and "publication of false news" because of reports in the newspaper on 12 May in which Mutsaka said Zimbabwe had bought anti-riot vehicles from Israel to disperse opposition protests and Kanyuchi said policemen had stopped prostitutes on the street and then let them go in return for sexual favours. The three journalists were freed the next day after each paid a fine of 10,000 Zimbabwean dollars (nearly 200 euros) but the charges were maintained against all three until dismissed by a judge on 4 December.
Bornwell Chakaodza and Fungayi Kanyuchi were arrested again on 28 May and charged under the Access to Information Act in connection with a damning report two days earlier on abusive police practices aimed, they said, at intimidating the privately-owned news media.
Zimbabwe Independent editor in chief Iden Wetherell was summoned by police on 31 May and charged under a censorship law banning obscene or pornographic material because the newspaper ran a Reuters photograph on 17 May showing Brazilian Amerindians playing football in their traditional costume, almost naked.
Kenyan journalist Florence Machio, coordinator of the online newspaper African Women, was briefly detained at Harare international airport on 12 June because she had no accreditation from the information ministry. She had to leave the country the next day.
Several journalists were detained and manhandled when police broke up an opposition MDC demonstration in Harare on 16 June, arresting more than 80 persons. Two Daily News journalists, reporter Guthrie Munyuki and photographer Urginia Mauluka, and their driver Shadreck Mukwecheni were injured and their equipment was damaged. Munyaradzi Gwisai and Newton Spicer of the agency Spicer Productions and Stuart Mukoyi of Kuwadzana 3 were also hit. The Daily News said the police had been waiting for the journalists, and accused them of colluding with the MDC and lying about police brutality. They were freed on 18 June at the same time as the detained protesters after paying bail of 3,000 Zimbabwean dollars (around 60 euros). The charges were dropped on 24 June and a judge ordered police to return a confiscated camera to Spicer on 2 August.
Chris Gande, the Daily News correspondent in the southwestern city of Bulawayo, was summoned on 3 July by police who formally charged him with "abuse of journalistic privileges" and "publication of false news" because he had reported that the family of former vice-president Joshua Nkomo had not been invited to a government reception.
Tawanda Majoni, a reporter with the Daily Mirror and former police officer, was detained by police on 12 September for allegedly infringing the Police Act by failing to resign properly before starting work with the Daily Mirror. It was speculated that he had been detained because he had reported that the national police chief was in poor health and unable to work, a claim that had been denied. Majoni was released the next day.
Two Daily News journalists, reporter Henry Makiwa and photographer Aaron Ufumeli, and their driver Trust Maswela were detained in a Harare suburb on 21 October while covering a demonstration by students demanding the reinstatement of a dismissed teacher. They were accused of inciting the students to demonstrate and were held at the Mabvuku police post for two hours. Police confiscated Ufumeli’s film but they were not charged. Journalists with the state-owned news media were able to cover the protest with no problem.
Police detained reporter Henry Makiwa, photographer Gally Kambeu and driver Trust Maswela of the Daily News on 19 November as they were covering a demonstration by residents of a Harare neighbourhood protesting against the rape of a 13-year-old girl by the deputy principal of her school. They were freed the next day. More than a dozen demonstrators were also detained.
Five journalists physically attacked
Patrick Kumbula, a cameraman with the state broadcaster ZBC, was seriously injured by soldiers on 6 April 2002 as he was filming a demonstration in Harare. Other ZBC journalists covering a meeting of the opposition MDC the next day in Harare were attacked by a crowd apparently angered by ZBC’s pro-government bias.
Daily News photographer Urginia Mauluka was hit by James Makaya, the main defendant in a corruption trial, as she was taking photographs of him outside the Harare high court on 6 May.
Daily News photographer Regis Tsikai was beaten up by graduates of the ruling party’s Border Gezi Training Institute on 3 October when they noticed him photographing them filling out job application forms. He was taken to a police post where he was released two and a half hours later.
Pressure and obstruction
Vendors of the weekly The Standard in Kwekwe, Chinhoyi, Mvuma, Bindura, Rusape, Ruwa and Hararewere all harassed during the month of January 2002 and were threatened with reprisals if they did not stop selling the newspaper. Copies of the Financial Gazette were destroyed at Harare airport.
On 10 January, parliament adopted the Public Order and Security Act making "acts of terrorism" punishable by life imprisonment or the death penalty. It also established a heavy fine or five years in prison as the punishment for publishing "false statements," or information likely to "promote public disorder," or "adversely affect" state authorities or "undermine the authority of the President."
Dingilizwe Ntuli, a young reporter with the Sunday Times of South Africa, fled from Zimbabwe on 13 January after being accused of terrorism by information minister Jonathan Moyo during a television programme. A month earlier, he had reported that army personnel were mistreating the population in the southern region of Matebeleland.
Sahondra Randriamasimanana, a Madagascan journalist with the magazine Capricorne who travelled to Zimbabwe with the intention of vacationing with friends, was denied entry by police at Harare airport on 24 January because her passport said she was a journalist.
When two representatives of the Zimbabwean embassy in Paris received the head of the Africa desk of Reporters Without Borders on 29 January, they told him he had been refused a visa because Reporters Without Borders was "too critical" of Zimbabwe and had called for sanctions. They said they had been told by Harare not to let Reporters Without Borders into Zimbabwe.
The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, adopted by parliament on 31 January and signed into law by President Mugabe on 15 March, required all journalist to have a one-year, renewable press accreditation issued by a governmental commission. Offenders could be sentenced to two years in prison or a fine of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (about 2,000 euros). Only Zimbabwean citizens and permanent residents were eligible for the accreditation. Foreign journalists were henceforth allowed to work in Zimbabwe for only a " limited duration" and only after being approved by Zimbabwe’s embassy in their country of origin. The new law also made it a crime to report the deliberations of the cabinet and other government entities.
A request for accreditation by Sally Sara, a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, was refused at the end of January. George Charamba, an information ministry spokesman, said she had made the mistake of coming from a member state of the Commonwealth which had just condemned political violence in Zimbabwe.
Two home-made incendiary devices were thrown through the windows of the Daily News in Bulawayo on the night of 10 February. A night watchman quickly put out the fire and no one was hurt. At the same time, two other fire-bombs were thrown at the premises of a printing press which had recently run off some posters for the opposition MDC. The Daily News said that ruling party activists had affixed Mugabe electoral posters to the windows of its offices several days earlier, warning that they would come back and burn the premises down if the posters were removed.
On 8 March, on the eve of the presidential election, the government newspaper announced that journalists would not have the right to attend ballot counting and that only the presidents of polling stations would have the authority to allow journalists to watch voting. At the same time, information minister Jonathan Moyo said journalists who were not accredited would be arrested and tried and it would be a long time before they were able to go back to their countries.
A report by the Media Monitoring Project (MMP) on the election campaign coverage of the state-owned media, published in early March, said the state broadcaster ZBC was guilty of bias and distortion on an unprecedented scale. It said that of the 402 reports on the activities of candidates, carried by ZBC between December 2001 and 7 March 2002, 339 (84 per cent) focussed on the ruling party’s candidates and only 38 (9 per cent) focussed on the candidates of the opposition MDC. Of a total of 14 hours and 25 minutes of campaign coverage, ZANU-PF candidate Robert Mugabe got 13 hours and 34 minutes of air-time (94 per cent) while the MDC got 31 minutes and 30 seconds (4 per cent).
ZANU-PF activists attacked Daily News vendors in Bulawayo on 19 March, destroying around 100 copies of the newspaper. Police did not arrest any of the assailants. Two vendors were attacked the next day in Rusape (in the centre of the country).
The state broadcaster ZBC announced on 22 April that, as of the end of May, it was cancelling the arrangement whereby it leased one of its two television channels to Joy TV, the country’s only independent television station. At the start of May, Joy TV stopped carrying the BBC’s daily news programmes on government orders. Joy TV chairman Tony de Villiers resigned a few days later because of the conflict with ZBC. He said the problems started when Joy TV began running a political discussion programme in which opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai took part.
The information minister named the news media commission responsible for issuing press accreditation on 1 June. Headed by Tafataona Mahoso, director of the Harare journalism school and a friend of President Mugabe, it comprised two former editors in chief of government newspapers, two academics and a retired civil servant. The end of October was set as the deadline for obtaining accreditation. It was illegal to work as a journalist without accreditation after that date. At a meeting organised by the Independent Journalists Association of Zimbabwe (IJAZ) on 29 June, 35 journalists resolved to boycott this new system of accreditation, calling it unconstitutional.
Police and officials of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) raided the Harare office of the privately-owned radio station Voice of the People (VOP) on 4 July, looking for a transmitter or any other broadcast equipment. They found nothing because VOP’s short-wave signal is broadcast from a transmitter based abroad, but they took about 100 cassettes and files anyway.
Precious Shumba, a journalist with the Daily News, and Peta Thornycroft, the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph of London, were taken hostage on a farm with a farmer as they were interviewing him on 14 August. Around 100 ruling party activists surrounded the farmer’s home, demanding that the journalists be handed over to them, and manhandled the journalists’ driver, who was outside. The two journalists were released after the party’s leaders intervened, but they were advised not to return to the farm.
A visiting correspondent of the French daily Libération was denied entry at Harare airport on 26 August despite having accreditation and a visa issued by the embassy of Zimbabwe in Paris.
The VOP office in Harare was bombed in the early hours of 29 August when the only person present was a guard. He said he was approached by three men, one of the armed. Two of them prevented him from intervening while the third threw a device into the office. The three then made off. The bomb destroyed the roof and the radio station’s equipment. In mid-September, the information minister insinuated that VOP’s office could have been used by terrorists to store explosives.
The Harare bureau of Agence France-Presse (AFP) announced on 6 September that the information ministry had refused to renew the work permit of Griffin Shea, a US journalist working for the agency. Shea had to leave the country when his visa ran out on 14 September. The information minister said foreign journalists could now only have work permits of up to 30 days and permanent work permits would no longer be issued. On 26 November, the minister refused to renew the accreditation of AFP bureau chief Stéphane Barbier without explaining why. Barbier left Zimbabwe at the end of the month.
The information minister accused the privately-owned Financial Gazette of "treasonous" and "anti-government" reporting on 28 October because of an article in the weekly’s 24 October issue headlined "Mbeki plots Mugabe’s exit," which said South African President Thabo Mbeki hoped to bring President Mugabe and the opposition together to prepare for Mugabe’s departure in 2005. The report was a fabrication and "unlawful," the minister said. The ministry’s spokesman George Charamba said an opinion piece in the same issue likening the Mugabe regime to Al Qaeda compromised a democratically-elected government and was in breach of the country’s laws.
A group of some 30 police officers threatened to arrest Blessing Zulu, a reporter with the Zimbabwe Independent, and Pedzisai Ruhanya, editor in chief of the Daily News, on 29 October as they were covering the funeral of an opposition parliamentarian who had died while in detention a few days earlier.
Authorities prevented a company, Radar Holdings, from flying a group of journalists from the privately-owned news media over the Chimanimani region in eastern Zimbabwe on 29 October. The company had wanted to show the extent of the destruction which a fire had caused to plantations at a time when some provinces were threatened by famine.