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Zimbabwe to Prosecute Journalist - 2001-08-23


Police in Zimbabwe say the editor of a weekly independent newspaper is going to be prosecuted for the criminal defamation of President Robert Mugabe. The editor is one of several journalists in Zimbabwe who have been brought in for questioning in recent days.

Police summoned the editor of the Sunday Standard newspaper, Mark Chavunduka, for questioning Wednesday after the paper reprinted an article that first appeared in a British newspaper.

The article said that President Mugabe is haunted by the ghost of Josiah Tongogara, the leader of President Mugabe's military forces in the bush war against white-ruled Rhodesia. Mr. Tongogara was killed in a car accident shortly before Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, and there have been allegations that he was murdered.

Mr. Chavunduka, who denies defaming Mr. Mugabe, was released after questioning. Press freedom organizations say it would be virtually impossible for a prosecution to succeed as the article was reprinted from another newspaper.

This is the second time that Mark Chavunduka has been threatened with prosecution. In 1999 he and a reporter on the newspaper, Ray Choto, were detained and tortured by military authorities following an article that alleged a possible military coup.

The two were later charged with spreading false information under Zimbabwe's Law and Order Maintenance Act but they were released after a court ruled that the section of the law they were accused of violating was unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, two reporters on another independent newspaper, The Mirror, have also been questioned by police following that newspaper's references to the Tongogara article. Police say they also want to question a fourth journalist, Basildon Peta of the weekly Financial Gazette. Lawyers for Mr. Peta say they have not learned why police want to question him.

Mr. Peta has written articles saying the government has drawn up a list of reporters to be killed before presidential elections next year.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo denies the existence of such a list and describes the allegation as "lunatic."

The latest police action against journalists comes barely a week after the editor and three reporters on Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, The Daily News, were arrested because of an article that said police vehicles were used in the looting of commercial farms at Chinhoyi in northern Zimbabwe.

The four were charged with the same offense as Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto but were released after a high court judge again ruled that the law they were accused of violating was unconstitutional.

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