Police yesterday arrested The Standard editor Nevanji Madanhire and reporter Nqaba Matshazi, on charges of criminal defamation and theft of documents from Green Card Medical Aid Society in Harare.
They were detained overnight and are expected to appear in court today.
The arrests follow recent publication of an article in which the newspaper wrote of the possibility of the medical aid society’s imminent collapse, amid reports from its sources the society’s expenditure outstripped income.
Prominent lawyer Linda Cook, who is representing the two, confirmed the arrests and said: “They are being charged under section 113 of the code, for theft of documents and section 96 for criminal defamation,” she said.
“They made warned and cautioned statements denying the charges in as far as the theft of documents is concerned. They have never been in possession of original documents and in the premises of Green Card.
“They are being detained and it is hoped that they will be able to be in court tomorrow (today).”
Alpha Media Holdings chief executive Raphael Khumalo said the move was meant to harass and intimidate journalists.
Said Khumalo: “I’m extremely disappointed and what disappoints me most is the uneven application of the law.
“The police appear to have a firm hand in arresting and detaining journalists, but that same hand is not there in dealing with perpetrators of political violence, and that is a recipe for disaster.”
He went on: “What is even worse is that you have certain citizens that appear to be above the law and can call on the police to make an arrest, and this is what happened in this case.”
Khumalo said the fact that the police had not been able to win any case under section 96 gave credence to sentiments journalists were being detained to satisfy certain individuals.
On Friday, detectives from the serious frauds section, armed with a search warrant, invaded The Standard newsroom and ransacked reporters’ drawers and desks including those of editors in search of the medical aid society’s documents.
The medical aid society is a brainchild of Munyaradzi Kereke, adviser to Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono.
Media organisations were outraged at the arrests with Misa-Zimbabwe chairperson Njabulo Ncube saying: “It’s another attack on Press freedom and freedom of expression.
It’s an attack on the little media freedom we are enjoying in Zimbabwe,” while ZUJ president Dumisani Sibanda had this to say: “We condemn the use of archaic and undemocratic legislation such as criminal defamation in the hope of cowing and intimidating journalists. As ZUJ, we will continue fighting these laws.”