International PEN welcomes the May 2 release of freelance journalist and Internet writer Frank Chikowore, after more than two weeks in prison. However, the charges of “public violence” against him stand and there are concerns that he will not receive a fair trial. PEN is also concerned about continuing attacks on the print media following the contested March 2008 elections and calls on authorities to either substantiate or drop the charges against Chikowore and to cease attacks against print journalists peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Background Information

Frank Chikowore, 28, a freelance journalist for publications such as the private weekly The Standard, who also runs a popular blog covering the 2008 elections, was arrested on April 15 while covering a strike organized by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which demanded the release of the March 29 election results. Initially held incommunicado, Chikowore was not charged for six days, in violation of the Zimbabwean law that states that charges must be made within 48 hours of arrest. On April 21, he was finally charged with "public violence" in relation to the burning of a bus on the morning of April 15. These charges came after the police had made and rejected a number of other accusations, including reporting without accreditation, arson, and attempted murder.
 
Originally denied bail on the grounds that the political climate was still too volatile, Chikowore was finally released on May 2, following payment of Z$5 billion (approx. US$167,000) bail. The judge ruled that the state had yet to establish a prima facie case against him due to the failure of the police to produce the necessary evidence. However, the charges of public violence still stand and Chikowore has been ordered to report to the police twice a week pending his trial. There are concerns that the charges against Chikowore may have been fabricated, and the delays in charging him and granting him bail suggest that he may not receive a fair trial.
 
The contested March 2008 elections have prompted a new spate of attacks on the press in Zimbabwe. For example:
 
Freelancer Stanley Karombo, who was held incommunicado for three days in April following his coverage of celebrations for the 28th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence, was reportedly hospitalized as a result of beatings sustained in police detention. Karombo, who was charged with "conduct likely to cause public disorder" and released on payment of a fine, was said to be suffering from nightmares and problems with his eyesight.
 
Davison Maruziva, editor of the popular independent Sunday newspaper The Standard, was arrested, detained overnight, and put on trial for publishing an April 20 opinion piece by MDC breakaway faction leader Arthur Mutambara, which was critical of the Mugabe regime.
 
The post-election period has also seen the initiation of legal proceedings against three other print journalists and the conviction of another, even though their reporting was ostensibly unrelated to the elections. On April 24, Blessed Mhlanga, James Muonwa, and Wycliff Nyarota, all journalists for the weekly Network Guardian, based in Kwekwe, central Zimbabwe, were put on trial for a March 26 story about a couple who were allegedly caught having sex in a vehicle parked at a shopping center in Kwekwe. On April 29, after a 13-month trial, Bright Chibvuri, editor of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) magazine The Worker, was convicted of practicing journalism without accreditation and ordered to pay a fine of Z$2 billion or serve 10 days in prison. An appeal was lodged with the High Court on May 15 on the basis that Chibvuri was in fact duly accredited in 2007, including on the date of his arrest.

PEN fears that these journalists are being targeted solely for their reporting on or around the election time, in violation of their right to freedom of expression. 

Write A Letter

  •  welcoming the release on bail of freelance journalist and Internet writer Frank Chikowore after more than two weeks’ detention;
  • expressing concern about the delays in charging Chikowore and granting him bail, and calling on the authorities to either substantiate the charges of "public violence," which some reports suggest are false, and to ensure that Chikowore receives a fair trial; alternatively, to drop the charges;
  • protesting the wave of post-election attacks against other print journalists, in apparent violation of their right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is party.

Send Your Letter To

President
His Excellency President Robert G. Mugabe
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building, Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street, Box 7700
Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: +263 4 734 644
Salutation: Your Excellency
 
Commissioner-General of Police
Augustine Chihuri
Zimbabwe Republic Police
Police Headquarters, PO Box 8807
Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: +263 4 253 212
Salutation: Dear Commissioner-General
 
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa
Commissioner Faith Pansy Tlakula
African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
48 Kairaba Avenue, P. O. Box 673
Banjul, The Gambia
Fax: +220 439076
E-mail: achpr@achpr.org

Please send copies of your appeals to the diplomatic representative for Zimbabwe in your country.
 
Please send appeals as soon as possible. Check with PEN if sending appeals after July 1, 2008: ftw [at] pen.org