HARARE - Police in Zimbabwe detained a journalist for reporting that President Robert Mugabe’s wife allegedly donated used underwear and women’s nightgowns to ruling party supporters, a defense lawyer said Tuesday.
Kenneth Nyangani, a reporter with the NewsDay newspaper, was detained on Monday in the eastern city of Mutare after the story was published but police have not formally charged him, lawyer Passmore Nyakureba said.
In the Newsday story published Monday, Nyangani reported that a ruling party legislator donated the clothing items on behalf of Grace Mugabe. The first lady, whose political profile has risen in the recent years, routinely donates clothing and food items to ruling party supporters at her rallies.
“They wanted to charge him with criminal defamation, but I told them that law has been struck down by the Constitutional Court,” Nyakureba said of his conversations with police. “They didn’t even seem aware of that fact. They are also not telling us whether the complainant is the first lady or the legislator.”
Amnesty International appealed for Nyangani’s release, describing his arrest as an attempt to harass and intimidate him and other journalists.
“The intention is to send a chilling message to journalists and media workers that they must self-censor rather than expose truths,” said Cousin Zilala, executive director of Amnesty’s Zimbabwe branch.
President Mugabe, meanwhile, was in South Africa on Tuesday for a meeting with President Jacob Zuma. He was not accompanied by his wife, who received diplomatic immunity from South Africa after being accused of attacking a young woman in a Johannesburg hotel in August and inflicting head wounds by whipping her with an extension cord.
AfriForum, a group representing 20-year-old Gabriella Engels, has said it is challenging the South African government over the immunity issue in an attempt to complicate any effort by Zimbabwe’s first lady to return to South Africa.
Grace Mugabe has denied any wrongdoing, saying Engels attacked her with a knife while drunk.