The International Federation of Journalists has accused the Government of Robert Mugabe of a "hysterical and hateful campaign" against press freedom after Zimbabwe accused a number of correspondents in the country of aiding terrorists.
"Linking legitimate journalism to terrorism is absurd, cynical and dangerous," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ, the world's largest journalists' group. "It confirms beyond doubt that the government of Zimbabwe is engaged in a hysterical and hateful campaign against all forms of press freedom."
The IFJ spoke out after the state-controlled Herald newspaper quoted a government spokesman as saying that reporting by some Harare-based foreign correspondents was unacceptable and accusing six journalists and a South African-based human rights campaigner of supporting opposition "terrorists". The spokesman named the journalists and warned that the government would make no distinction between those that it considered to be terrorists and anyone who supported them.
Of the seven people named four journalists work for British newspapers, one for U.S. news agency Associated Press (AP), one works for a South African paper and one is a rights campaigner. The names were Jan Raath of The Times, Peta Thornycroft of The Telegraph, Andrew Meldrum of The Guardian and Basildon Peta of The Independent newspaper group, AP's Angus Shaw, Dumisani Muleya of South Africa's Business Day and South-African based human rights campaigner Richard Carver.
"This position is dangerous because it puts all journalists at risk," said White, "It is the latest evidence that the authorities in Zimbabwe will use any excuse they can to crack down on internal dissent."
The IFJ is calling on the international community - and particularly the United States administration - to repudiate the Zimbabwe government's attempt to use the cover of the campaign against terrorism worldwide for its action against foreign journalists.
"There is legitimate international concern over terrorist networks, but that cannot justify attempts to victimise professional journalists for doing their job," said the IFJ.
Over the past year the IFJ has with other press freedom groups expressed concern over attacks on media in Zimbabwe and criticised the government. Harassment of the media came in different forms; the bombing of the printing press of The Daily News, the government's refusal to give a security guarantee to journalists, the deportation of some foreign correspondents, and, the detention and criminal defamation charges against eight leading journalists.
"The pattern of attacks on press freedom is well-established in Harare," says the IFJ. "This latest statement by the government merely confirms that it will use any available argument, no matter how perverse and grotesque, to justify its strategy of trying to silence its critics. We shall do everything we can to protect our colleagues and to expose the government."