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Reporter Detained in Zimbabwe But Not Formally Charged


A Zimbabwean reporter working for Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper and the Voice of America remains in police custody more than 24 hours after her arrest. She has not yet been formally charged with any crime. Peta Thornycroft's lawyer fears she may have to remain in jail until Tuesday.

By early Thursday evening local time, reporter Peta Thornycroft had not yet been formally charged with any crime. Police have indicated they intend to charge the 57-year-old widow with publishing false information and inciting public violence.

If and when she is formally charged, Mrs. Thornycroft would be the first journalist prosecuted under Zimbabwe's restrictive new Public Order and Security Act, which was enacted in January. She could face up to two years in prison if convicted.

Her newspaper, Britain's Daily Telegraph, says the allegations against her are without foundation. Mrs. Thornycroft's lawyer, Tapiwanashe Kujiga, says he has not been told what the charges are based on.

Mr. Kujiga says police refused to let him see his client for most of the day Thursday. Friday and Monday are public holidays in Zimbabwe, and Mr. Kujiga says he fears his client may have to remain in prison until Tuesday before she learns her fate.

International press freedom groups have strongly condemned her arrest and urged the government release her immediately and unconditionally.

The International Press Institute says "it is yet another attempt by the government of Zimbabwe to intimidate the independent media and hinder the free flow of information."

The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders issued a statement calling on the European Union and the United States to impose harsher sanctions on Zimbabwe.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of Southern Africa says "with Mrs. Thornycroft's arrest, the state has now signaled that it intends to muzzle by draconian means those journalists who dare to criticize President Robert Mugabe."

In addition to her work for the Daily Telegraph, Mrs. Thornycroft also reports on a freelance basis for several other news organizations, including the Voice of America.

VOA Director Robert Reilly has issued a statement denouncing the arrest as "a cynical attack" by the Zimbabwean authorities against freedom of the press.

Police arrested Mrs. Thornycroft Wednesday in the small town of Chimanimani, in eastern Zimbabwe near the Mozambican border. Authorities have transferred her to a jail in the town of Mutare, about 300 kilometers east of the capital, Harare.

Mrs. Thornycroft traveled to Chimanimani to investigate reports of increasing violence in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election held earlier this month.

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