Mr. Augustin Chihuri
Zimbabwe Commissioner of Police
C/o The Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe
1608 New Hampshire Ave
Washington, DC 20009
Via facsimile: (202) 483-9326
Dear Commissioner Chihuri:
We are writing to request that you oversee a transparent and thorough investigation into the recent murder of Edward Chikomba, a veteran cameraman formerly with the state-run Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). We are concerned by several reports alleging the killing was linked to his work.
Chikomba was abducted on March 29 by a group of armed men in a 4x4 vehicle near his home in the capital Harare, according to the Media Institute of South Africa (MISA), local journalists, and news reports. He was found dead two days later near the industrial farming area of Darwendale, 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of the capital Harare, according to the same sources. Chikomba was beaten to death, sources close to his family told CPJ.
In recent weeks, several members and supporters of the opposition MDC party have been abducted, beaten, and left for dead by unidentified groups using unmarked vehicles, according to news reports.
The motive of the killing was uncertain, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists President Matthew Takaona told CPJ.
But several news reports said Chikomba's killing might be linked to his alleged leaking to foreign media of footage of badly beaten opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after his release from police custody last month. Footage of Tsvangirai leaving a Harare courthouse with a suspected fractured skull, and then lying in a hospital bed, sparked international condemnation of President Robert Mugabe's regime. The footage aired on many foreign television stations, but not on ZBC, the country's sole television network, local journalists told CPJ. Many foreign news outlets including the BBC, the private South Africa-based E.TV, and the Associated Press have either been banned or refused accreditation by the government, according to CPJ research.
A police investigation is underway, according to Takaona. Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena was not available to take CPJ's calls for comment.
Chikomba, in his late 40s to early 50s, was a respected journalist, according to local journalists. "He was known for his professionalism and distance from politics," former ZBC Harare Bureau Chief Tapfuma Machakaire told CPJ. He was one of several senior ZBC journalists forced to step down in 2002 during a harsh media repression under then-Information Minister Jonathan Moyo, according to local journalists. He last covered a cricket game for ZBC a few months ago, according to sources close to his family. CPJ could not establish whether Chikomba was freelancing for foreign media outlets, a secret practice of many journalists in Zimbabwe.
We call on you to oversee that police conduct an impartial and thorough investigation into the murder of Chikomba, and that his killers are prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We also call on you to use all of your influence to ensure that journalists are allowed to report the news without fear of undue arrest or detention. Finally, we call on you to ensure that police officers respect the right of journalists to report the news, as well as their due process rights enshrined in the Zimbabwean Constitution.
We look forward to hearing from you.