Zimbabwe Editor Arrested Over Story

Associated Press Writer

April 15, 2002, 3:46 PM EDT

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- The chief editor of Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper was arrested Monday on charges he published false information on vote rigging in last month's presidential election.

Geoff Nyarota, 51, editor of The Daily News, was detained by police over an April 10 report in the paper that said election authorities admitted President Robert Mugabe lost the March 9-11 vote until 700,000 votes were mysteriously added to his tally.

Under new media laws, Nyarota was charged with abusing "journalistic privilege" and publishing false information, said his lawyer, Lawrence Chibwe. Nyarota was freed after questioning and will be summoned to appear in court later, he said.

The offense, under the Access to Information Act signed by Mugabe a few days after the election, carries a maximum penalty of up to two years in jail.

Dumisani Muleya, a reporter with the weekly Zimbabwe Independent, was also arrested Monday over a report published Friday that said Mugabe's brother-in-law was leading a group of black militants trying to seize control of a profitable white-owned food processing company in Harare.

He was being questioned by police late Monday.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday said his Movement for Democratic Change party had compiled irrefutable evidence of massive vote rigging in the election.

The party filed a High Court petition Friday demanding the poll results be nullified.

Several independent observer groups have said the elections were deeply flawed. The United States condemned the vote and the Commonwealth of Britain and its former colonies suspended Zimbabwe for a year, citing political violence, repressive laws and unfair voting conditions that swayed the poll in Mugabe's favor.

The Daily News said on April 10 it had tapes of state Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede declaring 2.2 million valid votes cast, then increasing the figure to the officially declared tally of 2.9 million valid votes.

Mugabe was declared the winner with 56 percent of ballots to Tsvangirai's 42 percent.

Mugabe, 78, led the nation to independence from Britain in 1980 and faced little dissent until recent years, when the nation's economy collapsed and political violence erupted.

Last month Mugabe's government threatened to prosecute Nyarota over an item in his paper about a call by the African, Caribbean and Pacific-European Union Joint Assembly calling for new elections in Zimbabwe.

The government accused the paper of being an opposition mouthpiece. Nyarota has been arrested at least five times during a crackdown against the media, civic groups and independent-minded judges in the past two years.

Though dozens of independent journalists have been arrested, assaulted or threatened by ruling party militants, the Daily News has been particularly hard hit.

A stun grenade damaged its lobby ahead of parliamentary elections Mugabe's party narrowly won in June 2000. In December 2000, explosives wrecked its presses, a day after the government called the newspaper an enemy of the state.