NY Times correspondent held in Zimbabwe

A New York Times correspondent who has been covering Zimbabwe’s elections was among two foreign journalists arrested on Thursday for operating without accreditation, police and the newspaper said.

National police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said the pair had been picked up in a raid on the York Lodge, an upmarket guest house near the centre of Harare, and were now being held in custody.

“I can only confirm that we have arrested two foreign journalists at York Lodge,” said Bvudzijena.

“They are being investigated for practising without accreditation. They were picked up early this evening and taken to police custody.”

New York Times executive editor Bill Keller confirmed its correspondent Barry Bearak, who won a Pulitzer prize in 2002 for his reporting in war-torn Afghanistan, had been detained but did not know where he was being held.

“We do not know where he is being held, or what, if any, charges have been made against him,” Keller said in a statement.

“We are making every effort to ascertain his status, to assure that he is safe and being well treated, and to secure his prompt release.”

There were no lights on or any sign of activity at the guest house on Thursday evening, an Agence France-Presse correspondent reported. The owners did not

answer the phone.

Press ban

Zimbabwean authorities, which barred most foreign media from covering last Saturday’s general elections, warned a week ago they would deal severely with journalists who sneaked into the country and were caught operating illegally.

However a number of news organisations, including the BBC, have been filing reports from correspondents operating under cover.

The situation is growing incresingly tense in the capital as Zimbabweans await to see if President Robert Mugabe has been defeated in his quest for a sixth term.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change claims its leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the presidential poll outright.

There has still been no official word on the outcome five days after the ballot, but the election commission announced on Wednesday that the MDC had won control of Parliament.

A leading US press freedom group responded to news of the arrests by calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to immediately release the foreign journalists.

“We are alarmed by reports that foreign journalists have been detained in Harare,” Joel Simon, the executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

“In light of the political situation, it is imperative that all journalists, foreign and domestic, be allowed to work freely. We call on authorities to immediately release all journalists currently being held,” he added.

Zimbabwe has strict rules on media and no independent radio or television stations are authorised to operate. - Sapa-AFP

Susan Njanji

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