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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Zimbabwe arrests condemned
Journalists protesting at new law
Journalists say the new laws make it impossible to work
Media groups have demanded the release of three journalists arrested in Zimbabwe earlier this week under tough new media laws.

Two journalists working for the country's only privately-owned newspaper, The Daily News, and the Harare correspondent of the British Guardian remain in police custody.


Among journalists here, everyone wonders who will be next

Dolores Meldrum
They are being detained in connection with a story claiming that a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change had been beheaded.

The Daily News has since retracted its story after being unable to find the grave of the victim.

Under Zimbabwean law, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza from the Daily News must be charged or released on Thursday - two days after they were picked up.

The Guardian's Andrew Meldrum was arrested on Wednesday.

'Intimidation'

The Vienna-based International Press Institute has condemned the latest arrests and called for the journalists' release.

"IPI believes that it is yet another attempt by Robert Mugabe's government to restrict the free flow of information through the intimidation and suppression of the media," said IPI head Johann P Fritz.

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe signed a new media law in March

In an open letter to Mr Mugabe, he called on the Zimbabwean leader "to do everything possible to ensure that Meldrum is released forthwith."

Mr Meldrum's wife, Dolores, said that he was in good spirits and was sharing a cell with his colleagues from The Daily News.

"The police came to our front gate in their Land Rover at 7am in the morning. I don't think he was surprised. Among journalists here, everyone wonders who will be next."

Mr Meldrum's lawyer says he is accused of spreading false information - a charge which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

Apology

Just days after Mr Mugabe's controversial re-election in March, he signed into law measures which severely curtail the activities of journalists.

Criticism of the president has become an offence, as is reporting "unauthorised" reports of cabinet meetings.

All journalists must register with a state-appointed commission, which has not yet been set up, and foreign correspondents will only be accredited for one-off events.

Geoff Nyarota, Daily News editor
Nyarota has been arrested five times in three years

The Daily News report blamed supporters of President Mugabe's Zanu-PF for the "beheading" of a 53-year-old woman.

But last Saturday the paper's editor, Geoff Nyarota, said it appeared the newspaper had been misled by the husband.

"Until... Tadyanemhandu's grave is located and positively identified, we are left with no option but to... tender our most profound apologies to Zanu-PF, whose image was tarnished by the report in question," Mr Nyarota said.

Media restrictions

Reacting to the arrests, the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, said it was "outrageous" that Mr Meldrum "should be the subject of criminal charges for doing the job of a reporter."

Mr Rusbridger called on the Zimbabwean Government "to release him immediately and to drop charges against him and his colleagues on The Daily News."

Mr Nyarota and the three journalists detained this week have all been charged under the new legislation on the media.

Mr Nyarota has been arrested several times since the Daily News was launched in 1999.

The paper's printing press and main office were both bombed last year.

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe journalist arrested
31 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe releases journalist
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe enacts media curbs
19 Feb 02 | Africa
Journalist urges more pressure
09 Nov 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe editor walks free
01 Feb 02 | Africa
Media rounds on Zimbabwe law
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