World Journalists Accuse Mugabe of "War on Free Speech" After Arrest of Reporter

The International Federation of Journalists, the world's largest journalists' organisation, today condemned Zimbabwe's arrest of a foreign press reporter under new security laws as an "act of war against press freedom and free speech".

Peta Thornycroft, a Zimbabwean citizen, who writes for the Daily Telegraph in London, was arrested and charged yesterday with "publishing false statements likely to be prejudicial to state security" and "incitement to public violence." She was held for five hours of questioning and detained overnight.

"This is a blatant attack on democratic rights," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary, "and comes just as the international community has exposed Zimbabwe's persistent abuse of press freedom in recent months. We shall campaign vigorously for Peta to be released and for the repeal of these hideous laws."

The Commonwealth Observer Group for the presidential election last week criticised state-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) for failing to adhere to fundamental journalistic ethics in coverage of the recent election and it further deplored the banning of the independent media, especially The Daily News, by Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) supporters.

The arrest of Thornycroft came after she had travelled from Harare to Chimanimani to investigate reports of wide scale political violence against members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The arrest comes under the controversial Public Order and Security Act, which was introduced ahead of Mugabe's victory in the March 9-11 presidential election and has been condemned as gravely flawed by many governments. Critics say the measure stifles political debate. If convicted, the reporter could face up to two years in prison.

Peta Thornycroft is the first journalist to be detained since the controversial re-election of President Robert Mugabe earlier this month. Under the new law, which was passed in January, criticism of President Mugabe is a criminal act.

"The law reflects intolerance of dissent and a step towards autocratic rule, " said Aidan White, "inevitably professional journalists will be among the first targets."