Cape Town, South Africa, June 23, 2014--Zimbabwean authorities should drop charges against the editor of the state-controlled Sunday Mail and release him immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police arrested Edmund Kudzayi, editor of the Sunday Mail, on Thursday morning after raiding his office at Herald House in the capital, Harare, according to reports. On Saturday, Kudzayi was charged with "attempting to commit an act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism" and "subverting the constitutional government," according to news reports citing the charge sheet. All of the charges carry a life sentence.
Authorities accused Kudzayi of being the anonymous Facebook blogger "Baba Jukwa." The blog, by a purported mole within the ruling ZANU-PF party, became popular in the run-up to the July 31, 2013, elections when it disclosed allegations of assassination plots and corruption within the ruling party, according to news reports.
Kudzayi, who was appointed editor of the Sunday Mail by Zimbabwe's Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services, Jonathan Moyo, in April, was remanded into custody after his bail application was denied and referred to the High Court, according to news reports. His next court hearing is scheduled for July 7.
News accounts did not report whether Kudzayi immediately responded to the allegations.
On May 11, the Sunday Mail ran a front-page story claiming that two South African-based Zimbabweans were the bloggers behind the Baba Jukwa Facebook page, charges they denied, news reports said.
The night before Kudzayi was arrested, police raided his Harare home and seized various electronic devices, according to reports. On the same night, unidentified assailants broke in to the Bulawayo home of Mduduzi Mathuthu, editor of the Bulawayo-based daily Chronicle, according to news reports. The Chronicle and the Sunday Mail are owned by Zimpapers, a state-controlled company.
Private media outlets in Zimbabwe reported that the state-owned press has become involved in a bitter dispute within ZANU-PF as different factions seek to influence the choice of successor to the 90-year-old President Robert Mugabe, according to news reports. A ZANU-PF elective conference is scheduled for December.
Earlier this month, Mugabe accused information minister Moyo of being the "devil incarnate" for allegedly using the state media to undermine ZANU-PF and advance his own interests as a rival to Mugabe, news reports said. A report in the Independent said Moyo's recent appointments of editors with a history of being critical of ZANU-PF has infuriated Mugabe, as has the minister's rapprochement with journalists in the private sector.
"Whatever political battles are being played out in Zimbabwe, we urge authorities to allow journalists to report freely on debate within government and the ruling party," said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine. "The arrest and extremely harsh charges filed against Edmund Kudzayi are likely to have a chilling effect on all journalists, in turn depriving citizens of their right to information."