My fear inside Mugabe's brutal treatment centre

Last week our man in Harare, Basildon Peta, defied the President and told the world he was on a hit list of journalists. We publish his diary of the week when the police came looking for him
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The Independent Online

Sunday 19 August: I normally reserve my Sunday morning for light reading and try to avoid the newspapers filled with stories about Zimbabwe's slide into lawlessness and squalor. However, I rushed out after my sister called to tell me to drop everything to buy the paper. The newspaper vendor's billboard read "Media hit-list drawn". I felt slightly nervous as I drove home, as I had been working on the same story myself. But what I read in the Standard was that I was at the top of the alleged list of journalists targeted for physical harm before next year's presidential elections.

Surprisingly calmly, I passed the paper to my wife, without mentioning what I had read. After going through the first few paragraphs she nearly collapsed, and looked as if she was having an epileptic fit. We stared at each other for five minutes without uttering a word.

The rest of the day was spent receiving phone calls from friends and others. While some gave words of encouragement, others wanted to know when I would be leaving Zimbabwe.

Monday 20 August :I was in the office before 7am, shocked, and without the energy to prepare my diary for the week ahead. I just sat stone cold at my desk, casting my mind back over the many investigative stories I had published. One such story on corruption in the Department of Taxes landed me in prison for a week after the police demanded I reveal my sources. Threats had also been made against me in the past few months: packets of bullets placed on my doorstep, and letters in the most obscene language, threatening me with death before the election.

For the rest of the day, I managed to shelve my own problems, as I had to help four other journalists from the independent Daily News who had been arrested, in my capacity as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.

Tuesday 21 August: While out on assignment, I was informed on my cellphone that three detectives had been waiting for me. For the past week up to seven journalists had been arrested and charged with criminal defamation by these detectives.

At the same time I also received a disturbing call saying my son, who had been seriously ill the previous night, had been admitted to hospital. I decided to attend to my son and eluded the police. Our receptionist kept reminding me that the detectives had left a very categorical message that I had to report to the police station. I spent the rest of the day away from the office.

Wednesday 22 August: Calls from the international media and other sympathisers poured in after The Independent ran my story about the hit-list on the front page.

My lawyers had meanwhile been alerted and advised me not to report to the police. After hours of negotiations, it was agreed that I would report to the police, in their company, at 10.30am on Thursday. I was very nervous about the prospect of going to Harare's Central Police Station, the nerve centre of Mr Mugabe's brutal treatment of journalists.

Thursday 23 August: After a sleepless night, I decided I had had enough of waiting. At exactly 10.30am we arrived at the police station, where I was interrogated for the next two hours. Contrary to the detectives' earlier threat to charge me, Detective Inspector Malungwe told me he was worried about the threats against me and said he wanted to help ensure my safety. My lawyer explained that I could not pinpoint the sources of these threats as they had been made by anonymous callers. The lawyers made it clear they were worried by the real motives of the police. As we left the office we were all puzzled as to what exactly the police were up to. They didn't ask what my opinions were and they showed little concern about the Standard story and the hit-list.

Friday 24 August: The lawyers suggested I leave Harare immediately for a brief out-of-town trip to avoid being picked up by the police to spend the weekend in prison. I left shortly afterwards for a place where I could calm down after the events of the past week.

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