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Geoff Nyarota heads to Harvard as Nieman Fellow

An award-winning newspaper editor who was forced to flee his native Zimbabwe was named a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

Geoff Nyarota, the editor and founder of The Daily News in Harare, was fired on administrative grounds in late December because he refused to end a journalist’s strike over wages. But the dismissal, amid President Robert Mugabe’s escalating campaign against independent and opposition media, led to speculation that he was fired due to government pressure.

”The opportunity to bring Geoff Nyarota to Harvard will provide a measure of safety for him and his family as well as call attention to the brutally repressive regime in Zimbabwe that has persisted in its attempts to silence a free and independent press,” Nieman curator Robert Giles said on Tuesday in a statement.

Mugabe has cracked down heavily on the independent press as part of his government’s attempts to stifle dissent in the southern African country. Before his dismissal, Nyarota had been repeatedly charged with violating Zimbabwe’s new security and media laws. Police raided Nyarota’s house the day after he was dismissed. He fled to South Africa, according to Harvard.

Nyarota (52) founded the newspaper in 1999. He has won awards for his work from the United Nations, the World Newspaper Congress, and Human Rights Watch. The Daily News and its staff have repeatedly been the target of harassment.

The paper’s presses were bombed in December 2000, days after Information Minister Jonathan Moyo called the new paper an opposition mouthpiece and a threat to national security. No arrests have been made.

Many of its reporters have been beaten by ruling party militants or arrested by police.

Since its foundation, The Daily News’ circulation has eclipsed that of the main government daily newspaper, The Herald. But then staffers went on strike, demanding wage increases of 150%. Mugabe has ruled virtually unchallenged since Zimbabwe declared its independence in 1980. The economy collapsed more than two years ago and political violence erupted. – Sapa-AP

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