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American arrested in Zimbabwe for publishing 'falsehoods'

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    NMU         ZIMBABWE         Newsgathering         May 2, 2002    

American arrested in Zimbabwe for publishing ‘falsehoods’

  • An American citizen who lives in Zimbabwe and works for Britain’s Guardian newspaper was released after being held overnight on violations of a new press law.

An American reporter in Zimbabwe was released from jail today after being held overnight on the charge of “abuse of journalistic privilege by publishing falsehoods,” which is illegal under a strict press law passed in February by the government of President Robert Mugabe.

Andrew Meldrum, an American citizen who is a permanent resident of Zimbabwe and works as a reporter for the British newspaper the Guardian, was arrested at his home on May 1, his wife told reporters. He was questioned at the Harare central police station with his lawyer present, according to Reuters and AP reports. Meldrum then appeared before a judge today, asking that the charges be dismissed. But the judge released Meldrum and two other Zimbabwean reporters on bail and ordered them to return to court on May 3.

The three journalists were accused of publishing falsehoods when they reported on the alleged beheading of a woman by Mugabe supporters last week. The independent Daily News in Harare later retracted the story, alleging that the story was fabricated as a “sting” to discredit the newspaper. Two Daily News reporters were arrested on April 30 over the account.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, which was passed in February and took effect on March 22, provides that journalists found to have published “falsehoods” will be fined up to $1,900 and jailed for up to two years. Seven journalists have been arrested under the law.

The law also requires that Zimbabwean journalists register with the minister of information, forbids foreign journalists from working in the country and includes 44 pages of restrictions on coverage, including bans on criticizing the president and the police.

Meldrum has written on Zimbabwe for The New Republic and appeared as a commentator on the nationally syndicated public radio show Fresh Air.

The New York Times reported that Meldrum has been called a “terrorist” by officials and noted that “the arrests came as the government celebrated Zimbabwe’s election to a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission.”

Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo had attacked Meldrum in the government-owned Herald newspaper in January. Moyo “called me a liar and suggested I was a saboteur and a security risk to Zimbabwe,” Meldrum recounted in a Guardian story. He mentioned that he soon afterward attended a journalists’ meeting and “joked about the situation. Someone asked who would be the first to be thrown in jail and we all looked at each other and the mood became more sombre.”


© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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