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JOURNALISTS AT RISK IN WAKE OF UNDECIDED ELECTIONS

Journalists in Zimbabwe continue to be subject to attacks and arbitrary arrests since Zimbabweans went to the polls more than three weeks ago, report the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International PEN and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"This media crackdown is a calculated attack on journalists who have revealed what appears to be the loss of the elections by the ruling party," says IFJ.

Last week, the president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Matthew Takaona, was brutally assaulted and robbed by people wearing national army uniforms, reports IFJ.

Another Zimbabwean journalist, freelancer Frank Chikowore, was arrested on 15 April, while he was covering a strike organised by the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Chikowore has been charged with public violence and is being remanded in custody, for allegedly torching a bus in a Harare suburb, reports MISA. Police confiscated his laptop, recorder and camera.

According to CPJ, Chikowore was arrested in 2005 for filming a police crackdown on street vendors in Harare's central business district. He also runs a popular blog that covers the current election.

At least five other journalists have faced charges since the elections, including Jonathan Clayton, the South-Africa based correspondent of U.K. newspaper "The Times". He was deported from Zimbabwe after being detained for eight nights and fined 20 billion Zimbabwe Dollars (about US$250), says RSF. Clayton was convicted on 15 April of violating the country's immigration laws after he declared at Bulawayo Airport that he was a tourist.

Clayton's deportation comes after a court in Harare acquitted another British reporter, Steve Bevan, and "New York Times" journalist Barry Bearak. They were arrested and detained for five days when police raided their hotel on 3 April on charges of covering the 29 March election without accreditation. A magistrate ruled that the state had detained the two journalists without an arrest warrant and had failed to provide evidence of any crime, says MISA.

Two South Africans working for a satellite television service company were also arrested by Zimbabwean police on 27 March, but were released on 14 April and have returned home, says CPJ.

Another journalist, freelancer Stanley Karombo, was detained incommunicado for three days before being released on 21 April, reports International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC). It is not known if he has been charged.

RSF says journalists in Zimbabwe are exposed to increased danger because African states are failing to put pressure on Mugabe and his government. "Without commenting on the issue of the 29 March general elections, countries which still have the ear of the outgoing president should at least make some clear demands, particularly in connection with press freedom," says RSF.

Visit these links:
- MISA: http://www.misa.org/
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=6078&Language=EN
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2008/africa/zim16apr08na2.html
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=26668
- WiPC: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/92920/
- Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe: http://www.mmpz.org/
- IFEX Zimbabwe page: http://tinyurl.com/28mvww
(22 April 2008)

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