The editor of the Zimbabwe Independent Iden Wetherell together with news editor Vincent Kahiya and chief reporter Dumisani Muleya were arrested over a story in which they reported that President Robert Mugabe had commandeered an Air Zimbabwe plane for two legs of his vacation in the Far East.
Another reporter Blessing Zulu said the three had not been mistreated and had been allowed access to lawyers.
Viewing cable 04HARARE61, TWO FURTHER BLOWS TO INDEPENDENT MEDIA IN ZIMBABWE
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000061
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER, D. TEITELBAUM
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: TWO FURTHER BLOWS TO INDEPENDENT MEDIA IN ZIMBABWE
REF: 2003 HARARE 2454 AND PREVIOUS
¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On January 10, police arrested Zimbabwe
Independent Editor Iden Wetherell and two other senior staff
members after months of articles highly critical of the GOZ.
On January 9, despite another court ruling in its favor
ordering police to vacate the premises of The Daily News,
police refused and again prevented staffers from accessing
publishing facilities. END SUMMARY.
Editor of Independent Weekly Arrested
¶2. (SBU) On January 10, police arrested the Editor of the
weekly Zimbabwe Independent (ZI), Iden Wetherell, as well as
News Editor Vincent Kahiya, and Chief Reporter Dumisani
Muleya of the same paper. Police alleged that the three were
guilty of criminal defamation for publishing an article that
the State perceived to be false. The article, published on
January 9, reported that President Mugabe had commandeered an
Air Zimbabwe plane for two legs of his current vacation in
the Far East.
¶3. (SBU) According to ZI reporter Blessing Zulu, the three
had not been mistreated and had been allowed access to
lawyers. They were still in police custody and signing
statements on January 12, and were due to appear at
Magistrate’s Court later that day.
¶4. (SBU) For the past few months ZI has published “Editor’s
Memos” in which Wetherell has been highly critical of the GOZ
for everything from Zimbabwe’s citizenship laws to ruinous
economic polices. True to form, the paper has also carried
stories by staff reporters critical of GOZ Ministers
including Minister of Information Jonathan Moyo who exercises
authority over all media outlets in Zimbabwe. In response
Moyo has published several articles in The Herald, mostly
under the penname Nathaniel Maneru attacking Wetherell.
¶5. (SBU) In articles published recently in The Herald, Moyo
has threatened to amend the Access to Information and
Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) to require publishers of
Zimbabwean newspapers to reside in Zimbabwe, a not so veiled
move against Trevor Ncube, publisher of both the Independent
and the Standard, both weeklies, and Strive Masiyiwa,
publisher of The Daily News. Masiyiwa and Ncube, who also
publishes the Mail and Guardian in South Africa, are
Zimbabweans resident in Johannesburg.
Police Prevent The Daily News from Re-Opening
¶5. (SBU) On January 9, High Court Justice Tendai Uchena
issued an order granting The Daily News (TDN) the right to
publish and ordering police, who have been present on the
premises of TDN offices and publishing facilities since the
newspaper was shuttered in September 2003, to vacate those
premises and not interfere with the operations of Associated
Newspapers of Zimbabwe (ANZ, the parent company of TDN). TDN
staff members said police on January 9 allowed them to enter
TDN offices where they prepared an issue of the paper.
However, police physically prevented all staff members from
accessing TDN printing facilities (at another location), and
no issue was printed. According to TDN CEO Samuel Sipepa
Nkomo, the High Court order included specific instructions to
police, and was served to Southerton Police Station on
January 9. Police at Southerton reportedly acknowledged
receiving the instructions, but refused to remove officers at
TDN facilities without clearance from their superiors.
¶6. (U) In a January 12 conversation with the Ambassador,
Nkomo said that the Media and Information Commission (MIC)
lawyer acknowledged to Judge Uchena that the police position
was indefensible, and that police had “misconducted
themselves”. Nkomo said TDN staff had an 8-page edition of
the paper ready to go to the presses.
¶7. (U) Police served a notice of appeal by the Media and
Information Commission on Nkomo on January 10.
¶8. (SBU) Nkomo said TDN lawyers were planning to file
contempt of code applications against police on January 13
for failing to comply with the High Court order, and against
Minister Moyo and a MIC lawyer for making public statements
prior to January 9 about the then pending judicial decision.
¶9. (SBU) Given the highly critical tone of recent articles
written by, or at least published under Wetherell’s
editorship, we do not find it surprising that the GOZ, in
this case very likely under Moyo’s orders, decided to take
action against Wetherell. At the time of writing, Wetherell
had not yet appeared in court so the charges and hence
implications for him and for the paper’s continued ability to
publish are unclear. As Ncube also publishes the South
African Mail and Guardian, we would expect the troubles of
the Independent to get some attention in South Africa,
possibly in the region as well.
¶10. (SBU) With yet another court victory under TDN’s belt,
this latest move by police and the GOZ to continue shuttering
TDN brings into ever shaper focus the GOZ’s headstrong intent
to prevent the paper from re-opening despite the lack of