By: Angus Shaw, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Empowered by sweeping new security laws, authorities arrested a journalist working for a British newspaper after she investigated reports of violence by ruling-party militants, her lawyer said Thursday.
Peta Thornycroft, a Zimbabwean working for The Daily Telegraph, was charged with reporting falsely on political violence and with incitement to public violence, her lawyer Tapiwanashe Kujinga told the South African Press Association.
The charges are punishable by up to five years in prison. Thornycroft, 57, was being held by the Central Intelligence Organization in the Chimanimani district, 290 miles southeast of Harare, Kujinga said.
Under the Public Order and Security Act, passed in January, any statements deemed critical of President Robert Mugabe are considered a criminal offense and the authorities have sweeping powers of detention without trial.
Thornycroft was investigating reports of violence by members of Mugabe’s ruling party against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change in Chimanimani. Police had no immediate comment on her arrest.
The Telegraph‘s Foreign Editor Alec Russell said in a statement that Thornycroft’s arrest was “merely the latest act of repression by Robert Mugabe’s government against journalists.”
“Peta Thornycroft is an outstanding correspondent,” he said. “The charges against her are without any foundation and are the latest cynical act by a regime intent on crushing anyone that dares to question them.”
Thornycroft also writes for the South African newspapers, Mail and Guardian and Business Day.
International media watchdog organizations, including Paris-based Reporters Without Borders and the Vienna-based International Press Institute, called for Thornycroft’s unconditional release.
The arrest “is yet another attempt by the government of Zimbabwe to intimidate the independent media and hinder the free flow of information, thus preventing news from leaving the country,” the International Press Institute said in an open letter to Mugabe.
Friends took food and blankets to Thornycroft and said they hoped lawyers would secure her release Thursday.
Mugabe was declared the winner over opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in presidential elections earlier this month that have been widely criticized for political intimidation and vote rigging. Tsvangirai has called for a new vote.
On Wednesday, Mugabe’s government threatened to prosecute Geoff Nyarota, editor of the country’s only private daily newspaper, over a story his paper ran about a presidential election run-off, South African Broadcast Radio Corp. reported. Information Minister Jonathan Moyo wrote Nyarota asking him to correct what Moyo termed “deliberate falsehoods” or face legal action, the report said.
The Daily News reported last week that the African Caribbean Pacific-European Union Joint Assembly in Cape Town had passed a resolution calling for a fresh election.
Moyo lashed out Thursday at local journalists he accused of promoting what he called American propaganda against Zimbabwe by reporting on travel restrictions on government officials and prominent ruling party supporters imposed by Washington.
Independent newspapers in Zimbabwe have reported the wife of an army general, top businessmen closely aligned to the government, and several bankers and weapons and fuel suppliers have been denied visas for trips to the United States.