|NMU||ZIMBABWE||Newsgathering||Oct 27, 2000|
International journalists assaulted in Zimbabwe
- Soldiers reportedly seize videotapes, cell phone in a confrontation that sent two journalists to the hospital.
Caught between rioting protestors and soldiers, four international journalists were recently beaten by troops near Zimbabwe’s capital city of Harare.
An Associated Press photographer and AP television cameraman Chris Mazivanhanga were among the journalists assaulted on Oct. 18 in the township of Dzivarasekwa, a suburb of Harare. Although the Associated Press declined to comment on the identity of the photographer, several international news agencies identified him as AP photographer Rob Cooper.
According to news reports, as many as a dozen soldiers dragged the two journalists from their vehicle and beat them.
The two reporters were ordered at gunpoint to lie face down while soldiers beat them with sticks and wire whips. Following the attack, Mazivanhanga and Cooper were treated for bruising and cuts on their backs. Mazivanhanga is a native of Zimbabwe and Cooper is from England.
“They were laying into the people,” Mazivanhanga told Deutsche Presse-Agentur. “They had all the equipment. One of them who beat me, his stick was splintered he had used it so much.”
In the same incident, a cameraman and a reporter from the South African Broadcasting Corporation were also attacked. Soldiers reportedly confiscated videotape footage from the cameramen and smashed the reporter’s cell phone.
The violence in Zimbabwe erupted early last week after residents began protesting the rising cost of food. Prices for food items and gasoline has jumped by as much as 30 percent in one week.
Zimbabwe is currently suffering its worst-ever economic crisis with inflation, unemployment and interests rates all hovering above 50 percent. Critics blame the country’s economic woes on mismanagement by President Robert Mugabe’s government.
Free press advocates quickly condemned the attack on the four journalists.
Yves Sorokobi, the Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in an interview that Zimbabwe has not always been a hostile place for the media to work, but the recent economic difficulties have sparked a crackdown on press freedoms.
“Zimbabwe has gone from a relatively quiet country in terms of press freedoms to one of the worst in the region,” he said. “In the Year 2000 it has really gone from bad to worse.”
Sorokobi said the laws being passed through Zimbabwe’s parliament are bigger threats to a free press than the recent physical attacks by police and soldiers.
“That’s where Mugabe has his power,” he said. “The legal efforts to adopt new laws gives you a forecast of what’s in store for our colleagues.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a non-profit organization which supports global press freedoms, criticized Zimbabwe’s government for the incident.
“We deplore this brutal interference in the work of professional journalists,” Sorokobi said in an earlier statement. “By attacking reporters, the Mugabe government is simply focusing global attention on its deplorable press-freedom record.”
© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press