Zimbabwe: Journalist Allegedly Tortured in Police Custody Faces Trial

English PEN is seriously concerned about The Zimbabwean reporter Gift Phiri, due to stand trial on 25 April 2007 on charges of working as a journalist without official accreditation and “publishing false news”. There have been recent disconcerting reports about the treatment Phiri received while in police detention earlier this month, particularly allegations of torture.
 
Gift Phiri, chief reporter of the independent UK-based newspaper The Zimbabwean, was arrested in Harare on 1 April 2007. He was briefly detained at Sunningdale Police Post before being transferred to Harare Central Police Station. Following his arrest police reportedly went to Phiri’s home where they confiscated his computer and some business cards.
 
Phiri was detained for four days, in violation of his right, under Zimbabwean law, to be brought before a competent court within 48 hours of his arrest. He was initially accused of being involved in recent bombings against police stations in Harare, then of “publishing falsehoods” in connection with a series of recent articles on State activities, including repression of opposition supporters. During his detention Phiri was severely beaten and is believed to have been tortured. Access to Phiri by his lawyers and by doctors was restricted.
 
Following intervention by his lawyers, Phiri was brought before a judge on 5 April and charged with working as a journalist without official accreditation and publishing false news under sections 79 (1) and 80 (1) (b) of Zimbabwe’s draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. According to his lawyer, Phiri had been forced to sign a confession to this effect. Phiri was released on bail of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$400) and set a trial date of 25 April 2007. The judge ordered the State to investigate allegations that the police had tortured Phiri and report on this at the next hearing.

On his release Phiri was immediately hospitalised to receive treatment for injuries sustained during his detention. According to The Zimbabwean he had been severely beaten on his buttocks and on the soles of his feet and one finger had been broken. Phiri remained in hospital for five days. The Zimbabwean reports that he is still in pain and suffering nightmares and has been recommended to attend torture counseling.
 
Phiri’s arrest and detention came two days after a death threat was made against him and Wilf Mbanga, editor of The Zimbabwean and founder of the banned independent newspaper The Daily News. On 30 March 2007, The Zimbabwean’s office in the UK was sent a copy of a letter dated 22 March purportedly from the President’s Office to the Zimbabwe Intelligence Corps (ZIC) listing 27 individuals targeted for execution by the ZIC and the “Zanu PF Security hit squad”. The “death list” included Phiri and Mbanga, whose names were circled. The newspaper doubts the authenticity of the letter but sees it as a clear attempt to intimidate journalists and activists.
 
Phiri’s case forms part of a wave of repression against journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists in Zimbabwe that has included numerous arrests, abductions, beatings, torture and killings. A few of the attacks against journalists since February 2007 include: the abduction and murder of former Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) cameraman Edward Chikombo; criminal charges against ZBC journalist Andrew Neshamba which could lead to a prison term of up to 15 years; and threats of government reprisal against Jan Raath and Peta Thornycroft, foreign correspondents for The Times and the Daily Telegraph respectively.

 For more information on these and other attacks, click here.

  
Please send appeals calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to:

• Ensure that an independent investigation is conducted into allegations that Phiri was assaulted and tortured by police officers and forced to sign a confession, and ensure the culprits are identified and brought to justice
• Drop charges against Phiri, which English PEN fears are politically motivated and contravene his right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe has acceded
• If the trial goes ahead on 25 April, ensure that it meets international human rights standards for a fair and public hearing
• Take measure to curb attacks against journalists freely exercising their right to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe
 
Addresses:
 
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
 
Minister of Information and Publicity
The Hon Sikhanyiso Ndlovu
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Box 7700
Causeway
Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: 263 4 734 644
 
Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri
Zimbabwe Republic Police
Police Headquarters
PO Box 8807
Causeway
Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: 263 4 253 212

It may be more effective to send appeals to representatives in London:
 
HE Mr Gabriel Mharadze Machinga
Zimbabwe House
429 Strand
London WC2R 0JR
Fax: 020 7379 1167

Please send appeals as soon as possible. Check with International PEN if sending appeals after 10 May 2007.

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/zimbabwejournalistallegedlytorturedinpolicecustodyfacestrial/

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