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Friday, 15 February, 2002, 11:06 GMT
Zimbabwe reporter feared for life
Basildon Peta
Basildon Peta has been the target of death threats
Leading Zimbabwean journalist Basildon Peta has said he will not return home until he is sure of his safety.

Mr Peta, who is the local correspondent of the British newspaper, The Independent, fled to South Africa on Thursday night, after attacks on him in the state-controlled media.


There has been a big attempt to try to destroy me completely. I will go back as soon as I feel it is safe, possibly before the election

Basildon Peta

Mr Peta also writes for Zimbabwe's Financial Gazette and heads the country's union of journalists.

After arriving in South Africa, Mr Peta told the BBC that the level of vilification and number of threats to which he had been subjected in Zimbabwe's state-controlled media had become unacceptable.

"There was no doubt my life was at risk," he said, adding that he would rather be regarded as a living coward than a dead hero.

He said that he and his family have come under sustained intimidation for the past two years; that envelopes full of bullets were left on his doorstep, and that he received so many phone calls in the middle of the night threatening him with death that he eventually disconnected his line.

Media campaign

On Wednesday, Zimbabwean television devoted the first 13 minutes of its main news bulletin to reports about Mr Peta, accusing him of lying about the details of his recent overnight detention in a Harare prison.

President Robert Mugabe
It is a crime to criticise the president - even during campaigning
The Independent website said Mr Peta took an evening flight out of Zimbabwe on Thursday to join his wife and young child already in exile.

"There has been a big attempt to try to destroy me completely. I will go back as soon as I feel it is safe, possibly before the election," Mr Peta said.

The Independent said Mr Peta had been the victim of an erroneous report by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) alleging that he had spent less than five hours in custody, rather than the 15 hours he actually spent in a police cell.

The false report was exploited by the authorities to vilify him, The Independent said, adding that the journalist's name last year topped a Zimbabwean security service hit list.

After emerging from detention in Harare on 5 February, Mr Peta stressed that he would not be bowed by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's administration.

"I will continue as I have always done," he told BBC radio.

Row over media bill

The Zimbabwean Government has denied new laws were designed to stifle opposition in the run-up to next month's presidential elections.

Newspaper billboards
There is much opposition to the media bill
The Independent said Mr Peta had faced charges of failing to notify authorities about a demonstration against a controversial new media bill, but these had been dropped, according to his lawyer, Tawanda Hondora.

Mr Peta was the first journalist to be detained under the Public Order and Security Act, just days after it came into effect.

If convicted, he could have been sentenced to two years in jail, the newspaper said.

The law, passed earlier this month, makes it a crime to criticise or ridicule President Mugabe and prescribes the death penalty for acts of "insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism".

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Journalist Basildon Peta
"I will be back"

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05 Feb 02 | Africa
05 Feb 02 | Africa
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20 Dec 01 | Africa
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