'Of course I'm scared', New York Times journalist in Zimbabwe says after sentencing

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Jeffrey Moyo
Jeffrey Moyo
PHOTO: The New York Times
  • Journalist Jeffrey Moyo has been handed a five-year suspended sentence and fined for breaching Zimbabwe's immigration laws.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists says the ruling is tantamount to muzzling the media.
  • Moyo's advice to journalists working in Zimbabwe is that if arrested, they should calm down and not let their emotions take charge.

"Of course I'm scared!"

Those were the words of The New York Times' Zimbabwe contributor Jeffrey Moyo, while responding to questions about his fine and suspended sentence in a case where he was accused of breaching the country's immigration laws.

Moyo was handed a Z$200 000 (about R10 000 at the government's official rate) fine and a five-year suspended sentence that can be activated if convicted of a similar offence within that period.

READ | Zimbabwe journalist charged for allegedly insulting Mangagwa in a tweet

It all began on 26 May 2021, when he and Zimbabwe Media Commission registrar Thabang Manhika were accused of contravening the Immigration Act by allegedly producing fake media accreditation cards for two foreign New York Times journalists Christina Goldbaum and Joao Silva. Goldbaum and Silva were deported after three days in the country.

In March, Manhika was acquitted of any wrongdoing, a verdict that gave Moyo hope.

However, it didn't turn out well for Moyo, who was convicted. He said he would appeal the ruling because he was not a criminal.

He told News24:

I am not happy with the conviction because I am not guilty of any offence. I will appeal against both conviction and sentence. I don't want to go down in history as a convict who broke one of the laws of the country.

For the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the ruling in Moyo's case was tantamount to press muzzling.

"Today's (Tuesday's) conviction of journalist Jeffrey Moyo is a monumental travesty of justice and shows how far press freedom has deteriorated in Zimbabwe under President Emmerson Mnangagwa," said Angela Quintal, the CPJ's Africa programme coordinator.

Quintal's concern was that Moyo and other journalists in Zimbabwe would find it hard to work in such an environment in the run-up to next year's watershed elections.

"Authorities must not contest Moyo's appeal and ensure that he and other journalists can work in Zimbabwe freely, especially with a general election scheduled for next year," she said.

Not a stranger to state intimidation, Mduduzi Mathuthu, editor of ZimLive.com – an independent online news platform – escaped with a warning and cautioned statement last week. He was advised to stay put just in case the state wanted to charge him for a tweet about President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Besides Moyo, Mathuthu is one of many journalists who are under observation.

Moyo had a word of advice for journalists in Zimbabwe.

He said:

My advice is [to] calm down when you get arrested. Don't let emotions reign over you but fight for your rights as a journalist. It's not a crime to be a scribe. You will eventually be free, even if you may be haunted by cruel regime enablers.

Zimbabwe will be in the spotlight next year as Mnangagwa seeks a second term after securing his first in an election marred by disputes in July 2018.

A product of the coup that dislodged the late Robert Mugabe in November 2017, Mnangagwa will seek to cement his political legacy.

As such, temperatures are high and journalists are in the firing line, resulting in Moyo and many other correspondents of international publications needing to be careful.

ALSO READ | Human remains found in Amazon search for missing journalist, expert

"I know I am one of the marked journalists now, and they will be keeping their ferocious eyes and spies on me," he said.

Political tensions are already high in the country.

Over the weekend, the police warned journalists against reporting "carelessly" about the murder of Moreblessing Ali, a member of Citizens for Coalition Change, the biggest opposition party in the country. There are allegations that she was killed by members of the ruling Zanu PF.

The News24 Africa Desk is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation. The stories produced through the Africa Desk and the opinions and statements that may be contained herein do not reflect those of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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