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Thursday, 23 August, 2001, 18:46 GMT 19:46 UK
Zimbabwe 'hit list' journalist questioned
Ray Choto (centre) and Mark Chavunduka (right)
Ray Choto (centre) and Mark Chavunduka (right) were tortured by the army
Zimbabwean journalist Basildon Peta has been questioned by police just days after his name appeared at the top of an alleged hit list of journalists.

On Sunday, The Standard newspaper claimed that seven prominent journalists working for non-governmental organisations would be "targeted" by the Central Intelligence Organisation ahead of presidential elections due early next year.

Standard article
The Standard claims that security services are 'targeting' seven prominent journalists
Mr Peta is secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists and works for the Financial Gazette in Harare and London's The Independent.

Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said reports of a security services list of targeted journalists were "rubbish, written by lunatics writing rubbish".

After two hours at Harare's Central Police Station, Mr Peta was released and said: "I think they are finding it difficult to find anything to nail me on."

'Western plot'

President Robert Mugabe and his ministers insist that Zimbabwe's problems are being grossly exaggerated by both the foreign and domestic privately-run media.

Media under fire
23 August: Peta questioned
22 August: Chavunduka summoned
15 August: Four Daily News newsmen arrested
26 July: BBC banned
28 Jan: Daily News bombed
Jan 1999: Chavunduka and Choto tortured

They see this as a key part of a plot by western powers to replace the Zanu-PF government with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to forestall Mr Mugabe's programme of land reform.

In recent days, journalists from four privately-run newspapers have been questioned by police in what is being seen as an attempt to intimidate those who write articles which displease the authorities.


On Wednesday, Mr Peta wrote that despite being afraid, he was "not going anywhere... I have no intention of compromising my journalistic principles in the face of state intimidation."

He also said that his 63 year-old mother-in-law had been visited by self-styled war veterans who were aware that he often went there at the weekend.

Policeman examining bomb damage
No-one has been arrested for January's bombing of The Daily News printing press

She lives in Kadoma in the same Mashonaland West province as Chinhoyi, where "war veterans" have recently attacked and looted dozens of white-owned farms.

Also this week, The Standard's editor Mark Chavunduka was warned that he would be charged with criminal defamation over an article claiming that Mr Mugabe was terrified of the ghost of a fellow guerrilla fighter who died in mysterious circumstances in 1979.

In 1999, Mr Chavunduka was illegally detained and tortured by the army for several days, along with a colleague, Ray Choto.

In May 2000 a court in Zimbabwe found enough evidence of torture in this case to order a police investigation. Correspondents say the investigation was not pursued.

This followed a story in The Standard alleging that sections of the army had considered staging a coup against Mr Mugabe.


Mr Chavunduka also appears on the alleged hit list, along with Geoff Nyarota, editor of The Daily News, who was arrested last week.

In July, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo banned all BBC correspondents from Zimbabwe because of what he called "biased" reporting.

Daily News editor Geoff Nyarota
Geoff Nyarota's name is also on the 'hit list'

Mr Moyo is currently working on a new media law which he says will guarantee "integrity and professionalism" in the media.

However, the legislation is unlikely to affect the state-controlled media, which never publishes anything remotely critical of the government.

In response to the apparent intimidation of independently-minded journalists, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Thursday it was the hallmark of a "brutal and insecure" regime.

Press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders described it as "the paranoia of government".

See also:

26 Jul 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe acts against BBC
04 Apr 01 | Africa
Mugabe tightens hold on media
29 Jan 01 | Africa
Daily News hits the streets
16 Aug 01 | Africa
Airlift plan for Zimbabwe Britons
16 Aug 01 | Africa
Diplomatic options over Zimbabwe
14 Aug 01 | Africa
Fleeing Zimbabwe violence
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