The International Federation of Journalists today accused Zimbabwe of a "ruthless vendetta" against journalists and independent media in the wake of the arrest and charging of three journalists.
"The Government of Zimbabwe is determined to persecute reporters in what amounts to ruthless vendetta against press freedom," said Aidan White, General Secretary of the IFJ today. "The arrested colleagues are the victims of a government that has lost all sense of its democratic responsibilities. These journalists are not criminals – they are victims."
Andrew Meldrum, an American citizen who has lived and worked in Zimbabwe for more than 20 years and is the correspondent of The Guardian in London, was arrested on Wednesday. Lloyd Midiwa and Collin Chiwanza, journalists with Zimbabwe's beleagured independent newspaper The Daily News, were arrested Tuesday. All three are charged with writing falsehoods.
The arrests followed publication of a story concerning a beheading, which officials say has been fabricated. "These journalists have been targeted by the authorities over a story that they have written in good faith," said White. "It is grotesque to call them 'criminals' over a professional matter. The Government should keep its hands off the ethics of the newsroom. The charges against the journalists should be dropped immediately."
The journalists are charged under an information law that tightens official controls on the work of journalists and is designed to stifle criticism of the President. If convicted under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill – which was adopted recently in the face of national and international protest from press freedom groups – they could be fined up to $1,818 or sent to jail for up to two years..
The IFJ criticised Information Minister Jonathan Moyo who defended the arrests on state television claiming the police were cracking down on criminals, "not on journalists."
"The Minister has no respect for the first principles of press freedom if he believes that the answer to professional questions is to treat journalists like common criminals," said Aidan White. "For the past year professional journalists have been targeted by the authorities in Harare. This is another sorry part of their shameful campaign. Journalists."
The IFJ regional groups the Southern African Journalists Association and its office in Dakar, Senegal, are taking the cases up with Africa's regional political leaders.