Zimbabwe journalists flee threats

Three prominent Zimbabwean journalists who wrote for the international press have left the country after several days of police questioning and threats of prosecution.

Angus Shaw, correspondent for Associated Press, Jan Raath, of The Times, and Brian Latham, who wrote news reports for the Bloomberg agency, were interrogated, had their offices searched and were told they would be charged with various offences that carry jail terms.

Their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, described the police action as harassment, adding: “It is clear the police were just searching for something to charge them with.” Now that they have left for South Africa, only one correspondent for a British newspaper remains in Zimbabwe: Peta Thornycroft, who writes for The Daily Telegraph.

The news agencies Reuters and Agence France-Presse still maintain offices in the country.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has expelled all other foreign journalists and closed three newspapers. More than 70 Zimbabwean journalists have been arrested and charged with crimes.

The action against the journalists comes only six weeks before the March 31 parliamentary poll.

The government has faced growing accusations that the election cannot be credible because of its repression of the media and the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Security laws prohibit public meetings of more than three people without police approval.

This week, police broke up a meeting of the MDC’s 120 parliamentary candidates and arrested the party’s elections director.

The government has also been criticised by legal experts for instructing the army to administer the elections.

Civic organisations say that of the 5,6-million registered voters, more than two million are suspect—citing high numbers of deceased and multiple listings on the electoral roll.

South African government officials said this week that they thought free and fair elections in Zimbabwe were still possible.

However, a leading South African lawyer, George Bizos, and other election experts said they believed that the current conditions there made genuinely democratic polling impossible.

Opposition launches campaign

The MDC is set to launch its election campaign at the weekend even though its leaders say it does not stand a free and fair chance of beating Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF.

After threatening for months to boycott the parliamentary elections, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) finally decided to field candidates in the polls to “keep the flames of hope for change alive”, according to spokesperson Paul Temba Nyathi.

Mugabe has vowed to “bury” the party which has posed the biggest challenge to his ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party, in power since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

Mugabe, who turns 81 on Monday, told a rally this week that he wants to score an overwhelming two-thirds majority and deal a major blow to the MDC which currently holds 52 of the 120 contested seats in Parliament.

The MDC campaign launch is to take place on Sunday in the town of Masvingo, located about 300km south of the party’s traditional stronghold of Harare.

“We chose Masvingo because that is one geographical area replete with historical landmarks in our party, for example that is where our first MDC mayor was elected,” said Nyathi.

“We are all going to congregate there and showcase our 120 candidates and our manifesto,” he said.
“Everything has been cleared and we will hit the ground on Sunday.” - Guardian Unlimited Â

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