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Two foreign journalists arrested in Zimbabwe as Mugabe cracks down on all opponents

Two foreign journalists arrested in Zimbabwe as Mugabe cracks down on all opponents
March past: A Zimbabwe soldier walks past election posters in the city centre of the capital Harare April 2, 2008.Photo: Reuters / Philimon Bulawayo

The Zimbabwean police has arrested two unaccredited foreign journalists at a hotel in the capital Harare. The police issued a statement Thursday saying that the reporters had been covering the country's election without any accreditation.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Barry Bearak, a New York Times correspondent based in Johannesburg was arrested Thursday evening. The identity of the other journalist has not yet been ascertained.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has expressed alarm at the arrests. “It is imperative that all journalists, foreign and domestic, be allowed to freely cover the important political situation unfolding in Zimbabwe,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on authorities to immediately release Barry Bearak and to stop intimidating all journalists.”

The Times said in a statement that the police had detained Bearak, a Johannesburg-based reporter who was in Zimbabwe to cover the country’s election. Executive Editor Bill Keller said a US consular official, who had visited Bearak at the central police station, told the newspaper that he was being held for a “violation of the journalism laws.”

Bearak's story in Wednesday's paper on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe first ran online and in some print editions without a byline because he was concerned about safety, Times officials said Wednesday.

"We withheld Bearak's name at his request as a security precaution," Diane McNulty, Times executive director of community affairs and media relations, told the in an e-mail. "But as more Western journalists used their bylines and as the story grew more prominent, Barry felt it was time to use his byline, which appeared in the latest editions of the newspaper."

Zimbabwe has one of the world’s most restrictive journalist accreditation laws, and has a record of using that law to suppress election coverage. Al-Jazeera is the only international news agency covering elections in Zimbabwe.

CBC correspondent Adrienne Arsenault reported that she was briefly detained by police during the day. The Media Institute of South Africa said a large contingent of police also descended on the York Lodge, a hotel where a number of foreign journalists had been staying. Reports that other journalists may have been detained have not been confirmed by CPJ.

Mugabe, who was clinging to power after 28 years as ruler, also moved against opposition party leaders. The Associated Press (AP) reported that authorities raided a hotel used by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Delays in announcing the results of Saturday’s vote have caused mounting international concern. Zimabwe’s election commission has issued results in the parliamentary races—won by the opposition—but has yet to announce tallies in the presidential race. The opposition has claimed victory in the presidential vote. The first senate tallies were not issued until late Thursday.

The Zimbabwean government is using its journalist accreditation law—known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act—to prevent most major international media outlets and some local journalists from covering the country’s elections. Only a handful of foreign correspondents received accreditation, even though a government spokesman told the pro-government daily Sunday Mail that it had received about 300 accreditation requests.

Date posted: April 4, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 557