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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Journalists’ institute demands explanation for detention of Zimbabwean pressman


5th February 2002

Reporter was due in London to receive institute’s medal for services to press freedom

The London-based Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) – the world’s oldest professional association for journalists – has demanded an immediate explanation for the unlawful detention of Basildon Peta, Secretary General of the Zimbabwean Union of Journalists, arrested and jailed in Harare yesterday on the orders of Zimbabwe’s Marxist President Robert Mugabe.

The General Secretary of the CIoJ, Chris Underwood, said he was writing to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and the European Union’s External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten calling on them to “do all in their power” to put an end to attempts to gag the news media. Peta, the leading Zimbabwean journalist and campaigner for civil liberties, is due in London later this month to receive the CIoJ’s Gold Medal “for services to journalism and the freedom of the press”, on behalf of Zimbabwe’s independent media.

Underwood said: “At this time we are still not sure whether Basildon Peta will be able to make it to London or whether the dictator Mugabe will attempt to restrict his movements, or even re-arrest him, to prevent him from pursuing his journalistic duties until after the election in five weeks’ time. We are very concerned about Basildon Peta’s welfare, and that of our other journalist colleagues in Zimbabwe. ”

“Ever since Mugabe came to power, his ZANU-PF regime has consistently attacked press freedom and violated human rights. The situation now is appalling, with a new law passed by Mugabe’s puppet parliament only last week that effectively outlaws independent journalism and wipes out all efforts to expose the truth about his corrupt government.”

Underwood continued: “The time has come for the British Government to take a much stronger stand against tyranny in Zimbabwe and use every means in its power to ensure that Basildon Peta and other Zimbabwean journalists are not routinely victimised. If Prime Minister Tony Bair fails to do so, what are we to make of his pledge to make Britain ‘a pivotal power’ and ‘a force for good in the world’?”