The Zimbabwean government has stepped up its campaign against
independent journalists just a month before general and presidential
elections scheduled for March 29, writes Torby Muturikwa.

The Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the police are at the centre of claims they are intimidating and harassing journalists.

On February 9, the editor and journalists of The Masvingo Mirror, a private weekly publication, were threatened by people believed to be state security agents over articles published in the edition of February 8.

The editor of the paper, Regis Chingawo, said two men in black suits and dark glasses stormed into the newsroom in the morning demanding to know the sources of two articles about Simba Makoni , the former finance minister standing against President Robert Mugabe .
Chingawo said the questions asked by the suspected agents made it obvious they were angered by the publication of remarks denouncing the president as “a bus driver who is sleeping on the steering who is refusing to give others a chance”.

“The two men demanded to know the sources and threatened us with closure if we continued to publish stories that are anti-government and aimed at de-campaigning the ruling party”, said Chingawo.

A week later, heavily armed riot police in Harare on 17 February arrested freelance journalist Fazila Mahommed while she was covering a bust-up at the Anglican Cathedral of St Mary and All Saints between supporters of two rival bishops, fuelled by their different political affiliations.
Mohammed was arrested while conducting interviews at the Cathedral where the Deputy Sheriff forced the gates open to allow worshippers aligned to Bishop Sebastian Bakare to enter the church for their Sunday service.

Bishop Kunonga, Mugabe's backer, was sacked from the church but with the help of the CIO has taken control of the church.

Mahommed was released after her recorder was confiscated. However, after failing to operate the recorder, police swooped on her home and demanded that she assist them in playing the tape recorder.

The next day, three journalists employed by the weekly Network Guardian in the midlands town of Kwekwe appeared in court on allegations of publishing falsehoods in contravention of AIPPA.

The charges against Blessed Mhlanga, James Muonwa and Wycliff Nyarota arise from an article written in March 2006, in which it was reported that two named people were caught being intimate at a shopping centre in the town.

Kwekwe Magistrate Aleck Kadye has set 15 April 2008 as the trial date.

On February 21, Sikhanyiso Ndlovu , the Minister of Information and Publicity, threatened The Financial Gazette following its lead story which reported that party members had refused to sign Mugabe’s nomination papers.

Ndlovu ordered the paper to retract its story or he would invoke sections of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

“As Minister responsible for Information and Publicity, I will not hesitate to institute the necessary corrective measures upon the paper in accordance to our laws and regulations as stipulated by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA),” he said in his statement.

Observers believe that as in previous elections, the government is using its security agents to persecute journalists perceived to critical of the government.