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Zimbabwe Arrests American Journalist - 2002-05-01


Police in Zimbabwe have arrested an American journalist working for a British newspaper. Andrew Meldrum is the third journalist to be arrested over the last two days under Zimbabwe's restrictive new media law. All three reporters are being charged in connection to a story alleging a woman was beheaded by supporters of President Robert Mugabe, a story later discovered to be untrue.

Zimbabwean police accuse the three journalists of spreading false information, an offense punishable by up to five years in jail.

Andrew Meldrum is a U.S.-born reporter working for the British newspaper, The Guardian. His wife says he was arrested at his home early Wednesday morning. That was less than a day after the arrests of two Zimbabwean journalists, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza. Both men work for The Daily News, the only independent daily newspaper in Zimbabwe.

All three journalists are being held in police custody in connection to their stories about a gruesome attack that apparently never happened.

Last week, The Daily News published a story written by Mr. Mudiwa, alleging that militant supporters of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, had beheaded a woman accused of supporting the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC. Both the MDC and The Daily News later retracted the story. They say they believe they were tricked by the woman's husband, who was allegedly trying to get money for funeral expenses out of the MDC.

But the retraction came after The Daily News story was picked up by several foreign journalists, including Mr. Meldrum.

The three reporters now face charges that they published false information. If they are prosecuted under Zimbabwe's restrictive new press law, they could be sentenced to two years in jail. They could get five years in jail if they are charged under the even harsher new Public Order and Security Act. Both laws were passed earlier this year and have earned widespread criticism from the international community. Human rights groups say the legislation is aimed at cracking down on dissent in Zimbabwe.

The arrests of the reporters come just days before World Press Freedom day, sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization, UNESCO.

The editor of The Daily News, Geoffrey Nyarota, will be presented with the annual UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize on Friday at a ceremony in the Philippines. UNESCO says Mr. Nyarota and the Daily News have been working in an atmosphere of persecution and harassment of the independent media.

Mr. Nyarota and other Daily News journalists have been repeatedly arrested and have received numerous death threats over the last two years. The newspaper's offices and printing press have also been bombed.

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