POLICE yesterday arrested the editor of the Standard, Davison Maruziva, on allegations of publishing statements deemed prejudicial to the state and contempt of court after publishing an opinion article by MDC leader Arthur Mutambara lambasting a ruling of the High Court last month on the delayed release of the March 29 presidential election results.
The Standard edition of April 20-26 this year carried Mutambara’s article headlined “A Shameful Betrayal of National Independence” in which the robotics professor criticised Justice Tendai Uchena for dismissing the MDC-Tsvangirai’s application to compel the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to release the results of the election.
Maruziva was arrested by detectives from the Law and Order section of the CID and was charged under provisions of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which deals with publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the state.
The Standard is a sister publication of the Zimbabwe Independent.
Iden Wetherell, Group Projects Editor of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard, yesterday described the arrest of Maruziva as a serious attack on the media by the government.
“This is a serious attack on both press and political freedom,” Wetherell said. “The issues raised by Mutambara are all currently part of the national discourse.”Â
At the time of going to press yesterday, Maruziva was still in police custody. His arrest came less than a week after journalists across the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day.
During the day, May 3, international and regional media bodies slammed the Zimbabwe government’s continued crackdown on local and foreign journalists after the March 29 harmonised elections.
The media watchdogs said they were “deeply” concerned by the rising cases of assault, intimidation and arrests of scribes in the country.
Last Friday, freelance reporter and Action Aid programme officer, Precious Shumba, became the 10th journalist to be arrested after the historic polls.
“This media crackdown is a calculated attack on journalists who have revealed what appears to be the loss of the elections by the ruling party,” the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said.
The IFJ said it was worrying to note that even the president of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Mathew Takaona, was a recent victim of the crackdown when he was assaulted and robbed by people wearing army uniforms in Chitungwiza.Â
Another international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, condemned the arrest and detention of freelance journalist Frank Chikowere last month.
Chikowore, who was released last week on bail, spent 17 days in custody after his arrest on April 15 while covering a job stayaway organised by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC to protest the delay in announcing the result of the presidential election.
The journalist was charged with public violence and for allegedly torching a bus in Warren Park, Harare.
The police confiscated his laptop, recorder and camera. The Media Institute of Southern Africa said five other journalists, including Jonathan Clayton, the South Africa-based correspondent of the UK newspaper
The Times, were arrested and faced various charges after the elections.
Clayton was deported from Zimbabwe after being detained for eight nights and fined $20 billion on April 15 for violating the country’s immigration laws after he declared at Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Airport, Bulawayo, that he was a tourist.
A Harare court last month acquitted another British reporter, Steve Bevan, and New York Times journalist Barry Bearak.
Both were arrested and detained for five days when police raided a lodge they were staying in on April 3 on charges of covering the March 29 election without accreditation.
But a Harare magistrate acquitted Bevan and Bearak after ruling that the state had detained the two without producing a warrant of arrest and had failed to provide evidence that the journalists had committed an offence.
Zimbabwean police also arrested two South Africans working for a satellite television service company on March 27. They were released on April 14.
A local freelance journalist Stanley Karombo was detained after being arrested at Gwanzura Stadium while covering the Independence celebrations.
Currently, Howard Burditt, an accredited Reuters cameraman, has been held for three nights at Harare Central for possession of a satellite phone.
Zimbabwe has some of the toughest media laws and a terrible record of harassment of journalists and repression of the media.
Some of the hostile laws include the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Interception of Communications Act, the Broadcasting Services Act, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the Public Order and Security Act and the Censorship and Control of Entertainment Act.
Meanwhile, Information and Publicity minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu reportedly told the Bulawayo Press Club at the weekend that the government was planning to tighten controls on the media.
Ndlovu said the government would limit the accreditation of foreign journalists ahead of the expected run-off presidential election between Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe expected before May 23.