Journalist Frank Chikowore Charged But Remains Detained
International PEN protests the continuing detention of freelance journalist and Internet writer Frank Chikowore, who was charged with “public violence” on April 21, 2008, almost a week after his arrest. He has reportedly been denied medical treatment while in detention.
PEN also remains concerned about other attacks on print journalists in Zimbabwe in the wake of the contested March 2008 elections: freelancer Stanley Karombo was detained incommunicado for three days before being released on April 21; three foreign correspondents have also been detained and put on trial this month. PEN fears that these journalists are being targeted in violation of their right to freedom of expression.
PEN calls on authorities to substantiate the charges against Chikowore and to allow him access to medical and legal assistance and bail provision, or to release him immediately and unconditionally.
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, has been detained since April 15. Chikowore reportedly went to cover a strike called by the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change to demand the release of the March 29 election results. He was arrested along with about 15 other people. Chikowore was brought home by the police, who searched his home without a warrant and confiscated his equipment before taking him to an unknown location. Although the police initially denied holding the journalist, he was later discovered at Harare Central Police Station. Chikowore’s lawyer and wife were not allowed to see him until April 16.
On April 17, Chikowore’s lawyer filed an urgent High Court application to have the journalist taken to the hospital due to abdominal and chest pains, but he has yet to receive the required treatment.
On April 21, six days after his arrest, Chikowore was finally charged with "public violence," in relation to the burning of a bus on the morning of April 15. Under Zimbabwean law, individuals should be charged within 48 hours of their arrest. The police had previously made a number of other accusations, including reporting without accreditation (which was later dropped), arson, and attempted murder. There are concerns that the current charges may have been fabricated. On April 22, Chikowore was remanded in custody, reportedly until May 5.
Stanley Karombo, a freelance journalist for Spanish news agency EFE, among others, was detained incommunicado for three days. He reportedly went missing on April 18 during celebrations of the 28th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence at Gwanzuru stadium in Harare. According to the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists, the police repeatedly denied any knowledge of Karombo and his whereabouts. However, he was subsequently found at Harare Central police station. Karombo was reportedly released on April 21; it is not known whether he was charged.
Three foreign print journalists have been subjected to weeklong detentions and trials this month before returning home. New York Times correspondent Barry Berak and contributor to the UK newspaper Daily Telegraph Stephan Bevan were detained for five days from April 3 and were accused of covering the elections without accreditation. Both men reportedly had to receive medical treatment upon their release. On April 16, they were acquitted of all charges on lack of evidence and returned to South Africa, where they are based. The same day, correspondent for UK newspaper The Times Jonathan Clayton was given a 20 billion Zimbabwean dollar fine (approx. 150 Euros) or six months in prison for allegedly telling immigration officials he was a tourist rather than a journalist. Clayton reportedly appeared in court wearing leg irons after having been detained for a week. He was deported to South Africa.
April has seen a number of other attacks against broadcast journalists and other media workers as part of a wider post-election crackdown in Zimbabwe. According to an April 18 report by Amnesty International, at least one person has died and more than 240 people have been injured as a result of state-sponsored violence following the elections.
Write A Letter
- protesting the wave of attacks against journalists in Zimbabwe since the March 29 elections—in particular the continuing detention of freelance journalist and Internet writer Frank Chikowore—in violation of their rights 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;
- calling on the authorities either to back up the charges of "public violence" made against Chikowore and allow him full access to the medical and legal assistance to which he is entitled, including bail provision, or to release him immediately and unconditionally.
Send Your Letter To
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
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
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 May 21, 2008.