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Morgan Tsvangerai, Movement for Democratic Change
"[The government] hopes to suppress information"
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Foreign Office Minister Brian Wilson
'Our concerns will be conveyed back to Harare and hopefully will have an impact'
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Monday, 19 February, 2001, 22:50 GMT
Zimbabwe censured on reporter ban
Joseph Winter reported from Zimbabwe for four years
Joseph Winter reported from Zimbabwe for four years
The UK Government has condemned Zimbabwe for its expulsion of a BBC journalist at the weekend.

The Foreign Office summoned the Zimbabwean High Commissioner in London, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, to express its concerns about the expulsion of Joseph Winter.

I reminded the High Commissioner that scenes like this do Zimbabwe no favours in the eyes of the world

FO minister Brian Wilson

On Saturday, Mr Winter was threatened by a gang and given 24 hours to leave the country, as part of a media crackdown ahead of presidential elections expected by next year.

Foreign Office minister Brian Wilson warned that Britain, along with the rest of the international community, was "extremely concerned" about the treatment meted out to journalists, particularly the BBC correspondent.

Another foreign journalist, Mercedes Sayagues, who reported for a South Africa-based weekly newspaper has also been expelled.

Voicing concerns

Mr Wilson said on Monday: "I reminded the High Commissioner that scenes like this do Zimbabwe no favours in the eyes of the world.

"A free press is essential in any democracy and the government of Zimbabwe cannot prevent the world from seeing what is happening there."

He said he had sought assurances that there would be no further removals from Zimbabwe.
Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe
Mr Mugabe is putting pressure on the press

The minister also used the meeting to voice concerns over government harassment of the judiciary and a bomb attack on the country's leading independent paper the Daily News.

President Robert Mugabe, who faces a re-election campaign by next year, is said to have been intensifying the pressure on dissent.

His government accused Mr Winter, who has worked for the corporation's African Service for four years, of having his work permit extended fraudulently - a charged the BBC journalist had denied.

A BBC spokesman later said Mr Winter's work permit was renewed three weeks ago, and is valid until February 2002.

Court order

Mr Winter obtained a court order allowing him to stay until Friday, but decided to leave at once after a group of men called at his home in the middle of the night.

"We were terrified, and we thought they were going to kill us," said Mr Winter, whose wife and small daughter were in the flat at the time of the incident.

On Sunday, a lawyer representing Mr Winter obtained a ruling from a court in Harare delaying the expulsion order for five days and preventing the journalist from further harassment.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirari
Morgan Tsvangirai: the government is isolating Zimbabwe
But government officials, including the Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo and Chief Immigration Officer Elasto Mugwadi, said they would not abide by the order.

"Court orders and what judges say in Zimbabwe these days count for increasingly little," said Mr Winter from Johannesburg.

"But with people breaking in to my house and apparently armed people looking for me, I thought it was just best to leave the country."

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, told the BBC that the government was intent on doing everything possible to ensure President Mugabe emerged victorious in elections.

"They are preparing ground for an early presidential election and therefore they are creating conditions of isolation of the international community to know what's happening here," he said.

There has been a history of bitter exchanges between the British and Zimbabwean governments.

In his latest remarks, Mr Mugabe said the image of rampant violence and instability in Zimbabwe which was "peddled" in Britain was completely false.

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See also:

16 Feb 01 | Africa
Mugabe opponent rejects charges
10 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Zimbabwe's descent into violence
18 Oct 00 | Africa
Zimbabwe: Economic melt-down
28 Jan 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe newspaper bombed
19 Feb 01 | Africa
Why I left Zimbabwe
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