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Journalists' arrests raise concerns

The arrest of journalist Nqobani Ndlovu has compelled journalists in Zimbabwe to call for free expression
The arrest of journalist Nqobani Ndlovu has compelled journalists in Zimbabwe to call for free expression

A recent spate of journalists' arrests in Zimbabwe has compelled the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and more than 100 journalists to petition Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to stop the harassment of the media.

According to MISA, among other cases, the petition is a reaction to the arrest of Nqobani Ndlovu from "The Standard" newspaper. Ndlovu was arrested on 17 November in Bulawayo, detained for nine days and charged over an article he wrote that allegedly made defamatory statements.

Instead of allowing him out on bail, state prosecutors invoked section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which allowed for his detention for a further seven days. According to news reports, section 121 is usually reserved to prevent the release of dangerous criminals, such as carjackers and armed robbers.

The charges arise from Ndlovu's story published on 14 November that alleged that the police were recruiting war veterans loyal to the ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe to take over senior posts ahead of next year's elections.

Meanwhile, Nevanji Madanhire, editor of "The Standard", was arrested and charged on 30 November for publishing lies "prejudicial to the state". The offence carries a 20-year prison term or the option of a fine.

"It seems that President Mugabe and his supporters are determined to stop observing the power-sharing agreement under which the coalition government was created in February 2009. Roger Mugabe is trying to weaken critical voices by harassing journalists," said Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

"The arrest of Nqobani Ndlovu is a big blow against the return of confidence in Zimbabwe as far as press freedom and freedom of expression is concerned," Trevor Ncube, chair of Alpha Media Holdings - the group that publishes "The Standard", told the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

"However, we are not intimidated but emboldened to continue informing the public in a professional and ethical manner," Ncube added.

Earlier, on 30 October, freelance journalists Andrison Manyere and Nkosana Dhlamini were arrested while covering the constitution making process in Harare.

An arrest warrant has also been issued for Wilf Mbanga, who edits "The Zimbabwean" weekly newspaper from exile in the U.K., for a story that allegedly "undermined President Robert Mugabe". Mbanga claims his paper did not even publish the article.

The petitioners say the government should take every necessary step to stop "all harassment, intimidation, illegal detention and criminalisation of the work of journalists, media practitioners and media houses." They also call for the transformation of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation into a truly public service broadcaster.

The full letter can be read here.
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