IFJ Condemns Zimbabwe Over "Ruthless Vendetta" Against Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists, the world’s largest journalists’ groups, denounced the regime of Robert Mugabe over the arrest of leading Zimbabwe journalists accusing the government of a “ruthless political vendetta” against independent media and journalists.

“The government is abusing the principles of democracy” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, “It is trying to make honest and professional journalists the scapegoats for a political mess of its own making.”

The privately owned Daily News is once again the chief target of the Mugabe regime says the IFJ which has protested vigorously over the arrest and charging of senior newspaper staff over a report alleging the use of police vehicles in the looting of white farms. The IFJ has also protested over the banning of foreign media from Zimbabwe.

The Editor of the Daily News, Geoff Nyarota, was picked up in the early hours of last Wednesday morning and taken to Harare central police station where he was later charged. He could face a lengthy jail term if convicted. Three other Daily News journalists, deputy editor Bill Saidi, news editor John Gambanga and reporter Sam Munyavi, were arrested later on Wednesday. They all have been released in the evening of the same day, after having signed warned and cautioned statements at the police station. The IFJ, which is calling for all charges against journalists to be dropped, says the Government is waging a campaign of intimidation, noting that in April Mr Nyarota and two colleagues were questioned and charged with defaming President Mugabe.

Associated Newspapers chief executive Muchadeyi Masunda, which owns the paper, says the journalists face charges alleging publication of false news under section 50 (2) (a) of the Law and Order Act and could be liable to a prison term of up to seven years. But the company plans to continue publishing the newspaper.

The IFJ says that the Daily News has come to symbolise the truggle for democracy in Zimbabwe. “This newspaper has been a target or the government for the last year,” said Aidan White, “They have had demonstrations outside their offices. Their printing presses were lown up in January. They face extinction unless this ruthless political vendetta is ended.”

The IFJ says that the Daily News< coverage on the day before the arrest of the journalists, which described the use of police vehicles as "well orchestrated acts of lawlessness" on the farms, was based on eyewitness accounts and that reporters had sought police comments, but these were refused. “This was a legitimate piece of reporting carried out in a professional manner,” said Aidan White. The government views the Daily News as an opposition mouthpiece but the paper says it is independent and has linked members of the government to corruption.