Mugabe will have to kill me to shut me up

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The Independent Online

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday condemned last week's assertion by the government of Zimbabwe that six Harare-based journalists who have written pieces critical of president Robert Mugabe – including myself – are guilty of "assisting terrorism".

The others were Jan Raath of The Times, Peta Thornycroft of the Telegraph, Andrew Meldrum of the Guardian, Angus Shaw of the Associated Press and Dumisani Muleya, of South Africa's Business Day.

Mr Straw said he was "profoundly concerned" at the reports. Assisting terrorism carries the death penalty under Zimbabwean law.

"This is in clear breach of the Abuja Agreement, which explicitly referred to Zimbabwe's commitment to freedom of expression," said Mr Straw. "The British High Commission in Harare is making urgent representations to the government of Zimbabwe to seek assurances that independent journalists will be able to report freely and without sanction."

Mr Straw said he would be talking to EU and Commonwealth colleagues "to consider how else we should respond" and would make a further statement in the Commons on Tuesday.

Last week Jonathan Moyo, Mr Mugabe's Minister of Information, likened the president to George Bush. "We, too, will not make any difference between terrorists and their friends or supporters," he said. Such threats can hardly be ignored, given that Mr Mugabe has introduced a public order and security bill which, he says, is aimed at combating terrorism. It prescribes stiff penalties for people who publish information considered offensive, and life sentences for people accused of espionage, terrorism, sabotage and other crimes.

Personally, I take great exception to being labelled a "terrorist'' by a government now considered among the worst human rights violators in the world.

Three weeks ago a Mugabe loyalist, Cain Nkala, was abducted from his home near Bulawayo by persons unknown and murdered. Before the courts have tried anyone for the crime, Mugabe and his ministers have already convicted the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

I don't condone murder. But while Mugabe has found an opportunity in Nkala's death to justify introducing draconian measures, he has never said a word about the hundreds killed by his own supporters since last year.

I'm not an opponent of Mr Mugabe, merely a journalist prepared to report the truth as it unfolds. I will continue doing that, despite all the threats. If Mr Mugabe and his ministers want my blood, they can have it. I will be back at my desk tomorrow.