BBC presenter arrested in Zimbabwe

A BBC classical music presenter has been arrested in Zimbabwe and, friends claim, suffered a dislocated shoulder while in police detention.

Petroc Trelawny was held for not having a work permit immediately after compering a music concert in the second city of Bulawayo on Thursday.

He slipped and fell while in police custody, causing a recurrence of a shoulder problem, a local organiser said, adding that Trelawny had been moved from his cell to hospital for surgery under anaesthetic on Saturday.

Zimbabwe’s police stations and prisons are notorious for their inhumane conditions and allegations of beatings and torture. A recent parliamentary committee report found prisoners living in squalor with insufficient food, clothing, blankets, towels, soap or other basic necessities.

But Trelawny, who is in his 40s and presents the classical magazine programme Music Matters, Radio 3’s evening topical drive-time show In Tune and Radio 3 Live in Concert, is said to be in “good spirits”.

Bruce McDonald, administrator of the Zimbabwe Academy of Music, which is running a five-day festival in Bulawayo, said: “He was detained at city hall right at the end of a performance involving 500 children. The hall was full to capacity – 800 to 1 000 people. There were no police. It was gentleman from immigration who went up to him and said, ‘We’d like to see you’.”

McDonald continued: “He was detained and he had a bad fall. He put his shoulder out and today they’re putting it back in under general anaesthetic. He told me that himself. He has a history of problems with that shoulder.”

Asked if this raised concerns about police treatment, McDonald dismissed the suggestion, saying: “People come up with those theories. The police have been very helpful and everything is fine.”

He added: “Good old Petroc, he’s bounced back. I saw him earlier today [Saturday] and he was cheerful. He’s due to fly out on Monday and I shouldn’t think it’s serious enough to stop that.”

Among those attending the concert was the British ambassador, Deborah Bronnert, who has since visited Trelawny. She said only: “We know a British man in his 40s has been detained and we are providing consular assistance.”

Trelawny, who lives in central London, was raised and educated in Cornwall. He joined Radio 3 in 1998 having begun his career at BBC Radio Devon as a reporter and presenter. At the age of 19 he hosted the station’s major news programming.

A classical music expert, he has also featured extensively on BBC Two and BBC Four and contributed to the Spectator, Irish Times, Catholic Herald and BBC Music Magazine.

He was not attending the Bulawayo music festival in any BBC capacity. A spokesperson for the corporation said: “We are aware of the situation and hope it will be resolved as quickly as possible.”

Crackdown on artists

Trelawny was tweeting from Zimbabwe last week. His most recent post, on May 23, said: “As dusk falls over Zim, 5 schools from Byo & Harare entertain in the Bulawayo Music Festivals opening pop concert.”

For years unaccredited foreign journalists have run the gauntlet of possible arrest by president Robert Mugabe’s government, but Trelawny is believed to be the victim of a recent crackdown on artists performing without work permits.

Bulawayo-based Magodonga Mahlangu, who has been arrested nine times and won international awards for her women’s rights activism, warned: “Bulawayo police station is not a good place. Any police station in Zimbabwe is not a good place. You can be beaten by other inmates. Officers don’t protect inmates and can harass you themselves. All sorts of things can happen to you.”

David Coltart, Zimbabwe’s education, sport, arts and culture minister, and a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, said in an email on Saturday: “I am distressed to hear of his detention and of this apparent injury as I am aware of the good work that Mr Trelawny has done in the United Kingdom and elsewhere to promote the Zimbabwe Academy of Music.

“Whilst Zimbabwean law must be fully respected by all, the circumstances and manner of this arrest will damage our efforts to portray Zimbabwe in a more positive light and I question why an apparent breach of law had to be dealt with in this manner.”

Coltart, currently in the United States, added: “There is no government ordered crack down on artists and if there is it is not sanctioned by my ministry. I have requested through my ministry that every effort be made by the police to handle this manner justly, in particular through the granting of police bail, so that he be released as soon as possible and appear in court in due course.

“On my return I intend ordering an inquiry into this. It is harmful to Zimbabwean interests to have people like Mr Trelawny arrested at what should be uplifting occasions which boost the morale of Zimbabweans and improve the image of Zimbabwe abroad.

“The arrest of Mr Trelawny has no doubt cast a shadow over the entire festival and I want to know how this happened so that this type of damaging action can be avoided in future. I will also want to know from all concerned why the demands of Zimbabwean law and legal due process could not have been respected in a more just and humane manner.” – © Guardian News and Media 2012


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