British tycoon seizes TV crew over Mugabe film

British property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten has had a British film crew put under house arrest in Zimbabwe after discovering that the filmmakers intended to make a documentary critical of Robert Mugabe.

Van Hoogstraten, who owns a vast estate and other businesses in Zimbabwe, told reporters he had arranged press accreditation for the Channel 4 crew in return for an assurance it would be positive about the Harare regime.

Jerome Lynch, a barrister, led the three-man team and they visited sites in Harare with Van Hoogstraten and Nathan Shamuyarira, the secretary of information for Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party.

Van Hoogstraten began to suspect that the crew intended to make a film that would show Zimbabwe’s crisis, especially state torture and human rights abuses. He said he discovered notes left by the journalists in his car that showed they planned to interview government critics.

He had the team confined to a hotel room and threatened to have them jailed, said the Zimbabwean press. He tried to force Lynch to sign a statement admitting they double-crossed him.

“I told Shamuyarira they were crooks. They were put under house arrest. If I had had my way, we would have made a case out of it and put them in prison, because they were here with evil in their hearts,” he told the Zimbabwe Independent.

A spokesperson for Channel 4, Howard Needleman, said the crew managed to fly out of Zimbabwe last week. Van Hoogstraten said the team signed a contract agreeing not to report on Zimbabwe’s land seizures; the Matabeleland massacres, when an estimated 20 000 people died in the 1980s; or mass housing demolitions last year.

The government agreed to allow the men into Zimbabwe to produce an upbeat documentary. “The government agreed they should come, but I said I must control their product,” Van Hoogstraten told the Zimbabwe Independent. “I told them that, if they stepped out of line, I would deal with them personally.”

On Saturday, Zanu-PF backed a plan to extend Mugabe’s rule by two years, a step critics say would plunge the country deeper into crisis. The main opposition has condemned the plan as the work of a dictatorship and says Mugabe, now 82, who has been in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has nothing more to offer the country.—Guardian Unlimited Â

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