Protest Over Journalist in Hiding as Harare Court Raps Media Law

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned "outrageous intimidation and threats" against a leading foreign correspondent in Zimbabwe and called on the government of Robert Mugabe to lift its vendetta against independent media in the country.

The IFJ statement follows a night-time visit by a group claiming to be immigration officials to the home of Harare based journalist Andrew Meldrum. His lawyers claim that the latest action is the culmination of personal attacks and harassment by the Zimbabwean authorities for over a year.

Meldrum, the correspondent of The Guardian, who has gone into hiding with his wife, enjoys the protection of a high court order issued last year when he was cleared of charges brought against him under the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. After he was cleared an attempt was made to deport him even though he has legal residency status in Zimbabwe. Meldrum's acquittal caused official embarrassment, as he was the first journalist to be tried and then acquitted under the Act.

"It is shocking that a leading journalist must go into hiding fearing for his safety," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, "but as a journalist he is well aware of the fate of hundreds of others in Zimbabwe who have been taken at night to be interviewed only to suffer mistreatment and sometimes torture in jail." The IFJ says that the credibility of the Mugabe regime's attack on the media has been undermined further by the decision of the Supreme Court, on 7 May, to strike down Section 80(1)(b) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in the constitutional case filed by Daily News staffers (SC 280/2002).

The ruling is important for media workers as Section 80 (1) of AIPPA clearly hindered the freedom of expression and interfered with the right of journalists to receive and impart information.

"The court's now realize that vindictive punitive legislation to silence the media is unworkable and unacceptable in any state where the rule of law and decency should prevail", said the IFJ.

The IFJ has once again called on the international community including the United Nations and European Union to apply pressure on the Zimbabwean government to halt the campaign of harassment against media. "Journalists like Meldrum must be free to work without undue pressure" said the IFJ. "There can be no democratic future for Zimbabwe until all journalists can work in the country out of the shadow of fear and intimidation that has been created by the authorities".