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Thursday, April 29, 1999 Published at 17:24 GMT 18:24 UK

World: Africa

Newspaper editor describes torture

Tim Sebastian interviews Mark Chavanduka

A Zimbabwean journalist, who says he was tortured after publishing a story about a failed military coup, is in Britain receiving medical treatment.

Mark Chavanduka, editor of the Zimbabwe Standard, published a story alleging a coup plot against President Robert Mugabe.

The report, published on 10 January, alleged a plot within the Zimbabwean National Army to overthrow the government had been foiled, and more than 20 officers and soldiers had been arrested as a result.

Two days later Mr Chavanduka says he was called to a military barracks in Harare and ordered to reveal his sources. He refused and was detained. Over eight days, he says, he was subjected to beatings and torture by electrocution and water suffocation.

Refused to reveal sources

Mr Chavanduka told his story, step by step, to BBC World's HARDtalk. He spoke of the day the first alleged beatings took place.

Mark Chavanduka on his 'torturers': "I would have no difficulty whatsoever in identifying them"
"It had been a day of interrogations, of statements as usual, except that their scope had widened. They also wanted to know all my contacts past and present.

"I protested that I'd written these statements before and they said, 'You wrote them for a different interrogating team, we want new statements.' And I basically wrote the same information."

It was then that he said he was repeatedly assaulted.

"It was two people at a time," said Mr Chavanduka. "They took turns.

"You would have one team for 30, 45 minutes, an hour.

"They would beat you, they would ask you to write statements. They would read them, tear them up and say this is nonsense and start beating you again.

"They were saying things like, for example, 'President Mugabe's already signed your death warrant so we can do anything we want to do.' Whether that was true or not I don't know but that is what they were saying.

"I was literally living for the moment and I was sticking to my story.

"The bottom line was that I was not going to give too much away about our sources for our story. The consequences for our sources would have been much greater and much more severe than what was happening to us."

Government denies torture

Mr Chavanduka told HARDtalk's Tim Sebastian the newspaper had checked their story from their own sources and independent sources and had decided it was safe to publish. He still believed the newspaper had got it right, though the Zimbabwean government has denied any torture took place.

Mark Chavanduka: "We're definitely going back to face the trial"
"No evidence has been put to our attention that the story was a lie," he said. "Throughout the period of our detention the military emphasised to us that they were not interested in debating the rights or wrongs of the story.

"They did not even say the story was a lie. All they wanted was our sources.

"The term they used was that the story was inaccurate - which I took to mean that we had said there were 23 arrested officers. It might have been 18, it might have been 25.

"That is the extent to which they said that our story was not accurate."

Mr Chavanduka and his colleague Ray Choto are now facing a charge in in Zimbabwe of "publishing a false story capable of causing alarm and despondency".

A court in Zimbabwe ruled the men could travel to Britain to receive medical treatment. But they will have to return to Zimbabwe to face trial.

Mr Chavanduka said: "I'm very positive about going back.

"We believe, talking to our lawyers, that we've got a strong case, we're pleading 'not guilty'.

"I have faith in the judicial system and I leave it to the judges to make a decision. But we're definitely going back to face the trial."

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