Journalist Arrested in Zimbabwe

Thu Mar 28, 3:15 PM ET

By ANGUS SHAW, Associated Press Writer

Peta Thornycroft, a Zimbabwean working for The Daily Telegraph, was not formally charged after her arrest Wednesday, her lawyer, Tapiwanashe Kujinga told The Associated Press.

Police indicated they would seek charges of reporting falsely on political violence and with incitement to public violence, Kujinga said. The charges are punishable by up to five years in prison.

Under the Public Order and Security Act, passed in January, any statements deemed critical of President Robert Mugabe are considered a criminal offense and the authorities have sweeping powers of detention without trial.

Thornycroft, 57, was investigating reports of violence by members of Mugabe's ruling party against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Chimanimani. Police had no immediate comment on her arrest.

Thornycroft, speaking on her lawyer's mobile phone, described allegations against her as "preposterous."

"To arrest journalists is a fundamental assault on one of the pillars of democracy — the freedom of speech and information," she said Thursday.

She denied doing anything illegal and said she was having a cup of tea in Chimanimani when she was arrested.

The Telegraph's Foreign Editor Alec Russell said in a statement that Thornycroft's arrest was "merely the latest act of repression by Robert Mugabe's government against journalists."

"Peta Thornycroft is an outstanding correspondent," he said. "The charges against her are without any foundation and are the latest cynical act by a regime intent on crushing anyone that dares to question them."

Thornycroft also writes for the South African newspapers, Mail and Guardian and Business Day.

International media watchdog organizations, including Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the Vienna-based International Press Institute, called for Thornycroft's unconditional release.

The arrest "is yet another attempt by the government of Zimbabwe to intimidate the independent media and hinder the free flow of information, thus preventing news from leaving the country," the International Press Institute said in an open letter to Mugabe.

Friends took food and blankets to Thornycroft and said they hoped lawyers would secure her release Thursday.

Mugabe was declared the winner over opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in March 9-11 presidential elections that have been widely criticized for political intimidation and vote rigging. Tsvangirai has called for a new vote.

On Wednesday, Mugabe's government threatened to prosecute Geoff Nyarota, editor of the country's only private daily newspaper, over a story his paper ran about a presidential election run-off, South African Broadcast Radio Corp. reported.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo wrote Nyarota asking him to correct what Moyo termed "deliberate falsehoods" or face legal action, the report said.

The Daily News reported last week that the African Caribbean Pacific-European Union (news - web sites) Joint Assembly in Cape Town had passed a resolution calling for a fresh election.

Moyo lashed out Thursday at local journalists he accused of promoting what he called American propaganda against Zimbabwe by reporting on travel restrictions on government officials and prominent ruling party supporters imposed by Washington.

Independent newspapers in Zimbabwe have reported the wife of an army general, top businessmen closely aligned to the government and several bankers and weapons and fuel suppliers have been denied visas for trips to the United States.

Email this story - View most popular | Printer-friendly format