Magazine article The Spectator

The Torture and Censorship about Which Our Press (and the BBC) Is Mostly Silent

Magazine article The Spectator

The Torture and Censorship about Which Our Press (and the BBC) Is Mostly Silent

Article excerpt

Zimbabwe has enjoyed a relatively free press since independence in 1980, as I remarked in a column I wrote in December 1996. Although state-controlled titles are dominant, there are several independent newspapers that have been remarkably outspoken in their criticism of Robert Mugabe's government. From time to time an editor has spent a night in jail, but by and large Mr Mugabe seems to have accepted that an independent press is something he has to put up with.

No longer. In the past month Mugabe has cracked down on the press - not that you would know it from reading most British newspapers. First two black Zimbabwean journalists were arrested and tortured. The 'crime' of Ray Choto and Mark Chavunduka was to have published a story in their newspaper, the Standard, alleging that there had been a failed coup to get rid of Mugabe. When they were finally released, they exhibited burns and bruises. They said that they had been subjected to various forms of torture, including electric shocks to their genitals. The Zimbabwean government described both men as liars, but ten days ago an independent medical investigation confirmed that they had been severely tortured. The white proprietor of the Standard, Clive Wilson, was briefly held in jail, though he was not mistreated. What was done to the two black journalists created a considerable outcry in Zimbabwe. Even while they were still in prison, there were demonstrations against the government. After their release three out of five Supreme Court judges denounced their unlawful arrest, confirming that as Zimbabwe enjoys an independent press so it also still has an independent judiciary. Mugabe, though, was unrepentant. In the past few days four black journalists from the Mirror have been arrested, of whom at the time of writing two have been released on bail. They had published an article alleging that the headless body of a Zimbabwean solider had been returned to his family by the army, which is embroiled in a futile and unpopular war in the Congo. These arrests were barely reported in the British press.

No less worrying than this increasing harrying of journalists was an address to the nation delivered by Mugabe last Saturday. With one or two honourable exceptions, this was also barely covered by our newspapers. Mugabe raged against the judiciary, describing it as 'impudent', and accused the independent media of being in the control of foreigners bent on overturning the Zimbabwean state. `White persons of British extraction' were `involved in acts of sabotage'. What were these acts? Mugabe did not say. His ravings are unlikely to convince black Zimbabweans who, if recent demonstrations are anything to go by, are increasingly disenchanted with him, and realise perfectly well that the journalists who have been victims of his tyrannical rule are all black.

Now, it might be argued that Zimbabwe is a small country a long way away. But so it was when it was called Rhodesia, and the British press was rightly obsessed with what was going on there. The country remains part of our recent history; indeed its very constitution, which Mugabe is abusing, was framed at the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement. So it is surely time to start noticing when this tyrant, once a hero to many misguided people on the Left, locks up and tortures journalists and threatens a purge against the judiciary and the press. …

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