Three Zimbabwean newsmen arrested over Mugabe report


Mon, Jan 12, 2004 - Page 7

Zimbabwe police arrested three journalists on Saturday for reporting that President Robert Mugabe commandeered a passenger plane from the national airline for his personal travel, their lawyer said.

Lawyer Linda Cook said police had indicated they would hold Zimbabwe Independent editor Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and senior reporter Dumisani Muleya overnight before laying criminal defamation charges against them.

"The police said there was not time to take warned and cautioned statements today. They are saying they cannot release them and invite them back to the police station tomorrow because this is a high profile case," Cook said.

Police chief spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena could not be reached for comment.

On Friday the Zimbabwe Independent wrote in a front page article that Mugabe, who is on annual leave, had ordered an Air Zimbabwe plane from the capital Harare to ferry him from Malaysia to Indonesia, leaving passengers stranded. In remarks carried by state media on Saturday, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo called the report "absurd and criminally false" and said the paper would be held accountable.

Cook said it was not yet clear whether the police would also charge the newsmen under strict new media laws enacted in 2002 aimed at muzzling government critics. The government says they are meant to restore professionalism in journalism.

The Zimbabwe Independent, like most other privately owned newspapers in the country, has been critical of Mugabe's government as the country grapples with a political and economic crisis widely blamed on government mismanagement.

The government accuses private media houses of driving a Western-led propaganda campaign against it, in retaliation for its seizure of white-owned farms for redistribution among landless blacks.

More than a dozen journalists have been arrested and charged under the media legislation introduced soon after Mugabe's controversial re-election in 2002, which seeks to punish the publication of falsehoods with a stiff fine or a jail term.