ZIMBABWE: Journalists feel the heat

Friday, June 20, 2008
Zimbabwean journalists and their families are coming under increasing pressure from security police and the military as the 27 June presidential election run-off vote draws closer.

Those reporters still working for the country's few remaining independent newspapers told IRIN that in the past two weeks there had been a noticeable increase in attacks against journalists as well as their families.

Freelance correspondent Tapiwa Zivira, who has exposed government corruption, recently documented the politically motivated murder of an opposition activist. Last week, soon after the story was published, his father was abducted by ZANU-PF supporters in Bindura, Mashonaland Central Province and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Zivira told IRIN in an interview that "As far as I know, my father has never taken an active interest in politics. I was told by those who witnessed the abduction that the ZANU-PF [the ruling party until the general election on 29 March] supporters who took him away accused him of being an MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] supporter."

He hopes his father will be found alive. After the interview with IRIN, Zivira left for the area - a ZANU-PF stronghold - to search for his father, but the pattern emerging from such abductions is that the person's body is usually found a few days later, often half-buried in a riverbed or hidden under bush scrub.

Speaking on condition that they were not identified, several journalists told IRIN that they were now being forced underground, fearing for their lives.

"I received a telephone call from a relative in the security services who told me that he had been going through a list of journalists who were supposed to be attacked. On the same list were members of the MDC and civic society activists. My relative advised me to relocate, and I have not been home since the beginning of the week," one independent reporter told IRIN.

Another journalist working in the private media did the same after being warned by a relative serving in the army that he was on the wanted list. "I am staying with a relative where nobody is likely to look for me, in a military camp," he told IRIN.

With a week to go to the election, the body count of perceived MDC supporters murdered since March has reached 70, according to the party.

Pro-democracy campaigner Lovemore Madhuku told IRIN that the targeting of the media was expected. "ZANU-PF has decimated the active youth activists and recently shut down civic society, which concentrated on political and human rights." Madhuku's parents were recently attacked in their home at a village in the eastern part of the country by suspected ZANU-PF supporters.

"The only sector which remains and continues to expose their [ZANU-PF's] corruption and acts of brutality is the media, which has remained very active despite repressive laws regulating the media," he said.

The editor of The Standard, the country's only remaining independent Sunday newspaper, Davison Maruziva, has been hauled before the courts for publishing a letter written by an opposition politician. Media analysts say the stage is being set for the closure of its sister publication, The Zimbabwe Independent.

Matthew Takaona, president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, which represents the welfare of all journalists in the country, told IRIN that there was an "unsettling" upsurge of attacks on journalists and their families ahead of the election.

"We call on whoever is behind the attacks on journalists and their relatives to stop the exercise and allow them to conduct their business without interference. We are also worried after the arrests and detention of journalists since the last election in March."

Journalists seen as anti-government militia

A government deputy minister recently accused journalists of being "military commanders of the MDC". Media practitioners working for the state-controlled media appear to have no such worries.

The state-controlled daily, The Herald, routinely uses its opinion pages to insult and attack those perceived as being ZANU-PF detractors: in the 20 June edition of the newspaper, South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, and anti-apartheid stalwart Archbishop Desmond Tutu were derided as house slaves and instruments of the West's bidding.

Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has routinely criticised Mugabe's "dictatorial ways".

Mugabe is also becoming increasingly isolated from his African peers. According to Angola's state radio, President Jose Dos Santos, one of Mugabe's staunchest defenders, rebuked the 84-year-old leader, telling him to "observe the spirit of tolerance, respect for difference and cease all forms of intimidation and political violence".

Source: IRIN NEWS http://irinnews.org