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Appeal for Support of Zimbabwean Journalists - 2001-08-28

An international organization of journalists is denouncing what it says is a vendetta by government authorities against the independent media in Zimbabwe. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists is appealing for international support to help counter the crackdown.

The federation, which says it has 500,000 members in 106 countries, is decrying what it calls a wave of persistent attacks during the past few weeks against Zimbabwe's independent news organizations and a number of prominent individual journalists.

The group's general secretary, Aidan White, says the campaign smacks of panic and what he calls a growing crisis within Zimbabwean government circles. "They're very sensitive to any form of criticism," Mr. White says, "and unfortunately, we see this as something of a vendetta in which the Zimbabwean authorities are trying to really blame journalists and independent media for their own political crisis."

Mr. White mentions the case of a reporter for the independent Financial Gazette, Basildon Peta, who was detained for questioning last week by Zimbabwean police. He is one of eight leading journalists who have been picked up by police recently and charged with defamation of President Robert Mugabe or members of his government.

The International Federation of Journalists says reporters and editors have also been physically attacked and verbally abused by senior government officials in Zimbabwe. Several foreign journalists have been expelled from the country. The federation criticizes a threat by Vice President Simon Muzenda to arrest critical journalists as "intimidation of the worst kind."

Mr. White says his organization is calling for the widest possible international media solidarity, involving journalists' unions, editors and publishers, to deal with the crisis facing journalists in Zimbabwe. "We feel it's necessary to draw the attention of the international community to the crisis facing journalists," he said, "to highlight the fact that individual journalists are being targeted, and, by so doing, make it more difficult for the Zimbabwean authorities to move against them."

The International Federation of Journalists has pledged to provide practical support and assistance to journalists it says have been victimized by the Mugabe government.