Arrested Zim journos tried to 'overshadow' cyanide poaching probe – police

2015-11-04 13:18


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Harare - A Zimbabwe police spokesperson on Tuesday defended the arrest of three journalists, saying their newspaper's claim that a senior police officer had been implicated in the recent poisoning of dozens of elephants was "meant to overshadow" the force's efforts to arrest those really behind the crime.

The detention of Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa and journalists Brian Chitemba and Tinashe Farawo has sparked outrage in Zimbabwe and some surprise, since the Sunday Mail is state-controlled.

Reporters for the official press are generally much less likely to get arrested in Zimbabwe, where tough press laws have been in place since 2002.

Sasa, Chitemba and Farawo are facing charges of publishing falsehoods, according to the Sunday Mail's sister paper The Herald.

First reports suggest that the trio were initially detained for questioning on Monday but then arrested when they refused to disclose the identity of a source who provided the information for Sunday's front page story.

Better and more civilised ways

Media watchdog @ZimMediaReview said that the arrest was a breach of Zimbabwe's two-year-old constitution. "Sec61(2) of the Constitution provides for 'protection of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources of information'. ZRP [Zimbabwe Republic Police] openly violating this," the group said in a tweet.

The Zimbabwe National Editors' Forum condemned the arrests "in the strongest terms".

"There are better and more civilised ways of dealing with such cases than arresting and detaining journalists," acting chair Njabulo Ncube said in a statement.

But police spokesperson Charity Charamba said that while police respected the "watchdog role" of journalists in society, "this role should not be abused by peddling falsehoods".

"The ZRP is never amiss with its responsibility of protecting not only human life but also the life of creation at large, which includes life of animals, flora and fauna," she said in a statement.

Police claim that there are no reports of police investigating any member of their force over the poaching story. The Sunday Mail said the officer under investigation was an assistant commissioner. It did not name him.

Around 60 elephants have been poisoned with cyanide in Hwange National Park in the last few weeks in a grim echo of a similar mass slaughter in 2013. Another three elephants died of cyanide poisoning in the resort town of Kariba in late September, though this is suspected to be the work of disgruntled residents rather than an organised poaching syndicate.

Baba Jukwa

During the worst years of the 2000-2008 political crisis, dozens of reporters from the private press were arrested, often over articles that painted the government of President Robert Mugabe in a bad light.

Foreign reporters were also arrested and deported. But those working for the state press - which is loyal to the ruling Zanu-PF party - were almost never targeted.

However this is the second time that a Sunday Mail editor has been targeted by police in as many years. In 2014, the then editor Edmund Kudzayi was arrested over suspicions he was the faceless Baba Jukwa, a Zanu-PF deep-throat who ran a widely-followed Facebook page spilling the secrets of ruling party officials, strategy and in some cases, their personal cellphone numbers.

Kudzayi maintained he was not Baba Jukwa but had instead been helping the authorities identify the mysterious individual or individuals behind the account.

Charges against him were withdrawn in May 2015.

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  zimbabwe  |  poaching  |  southern africa  |  animals

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