Today, police will arrest me for a crime I didn't commit

Basildon Peta in Harare
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The Independent Online

Today, under threat of arrest for having taken part in a peaceful protest, and against the advice of my family and friends who want me to stay away from the madness in Zimbabwe, I am going to confront the police with a clear conscience.

I am aware that the situation has changed since I was last arrested and hurled into the dimly-lit police rooms of Harare central police station three months ago.

Violence has increased, more government opponents have been killed or injured, more draconian laws have been passed. But I go back knowing I have committed no crime and do not deserve to spend a minute in police custody. If anything happens to me while in custody, at least my family and sympathisers will know who to hold responsible – President Robert Mugabe, his Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo, and their security agents.

I was among the journalists in the press gallery of Zimbabwe's Parliament on Thursday night witnessing Zimbabwe's democracy being undermined by passage of one of the most draconian media laws seen anywhere.

As MPs voted to pass the bill, my sister-in-law called me to say four policemen had called at my home. The police refused to say why they were looking for me at such a late hour so I stayed away from home that night.

On Friday, the police pursued me at my office while I was out of Harare on family business. I was not running away from them. There was no basis for me to do so because I have never committed a crime. Later, one of the detectives, who identified himself as Detective Sergeant Majange, found my number and ordered me to report to the police station that night. He refused to say why.

On Saturday morning I sent my lawyer, Tawanda Hondora of Kantor and Immerman Law Firm, to the police station on my behalf.

Mr Majange said he wanted to charge me with "illegally convening a demonstration by journalists against the media bill on Wednesday afternoon without police permission" in my capacity as secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.

The detectives said the Public Order and Security Act, which was signed into law by Mr Mugabe more than a week ago, banned demonstrations without police permission.

Two opposition officials have already been charged under the Act. The penalty is a two year jail term.

My lawyer told the officers that any such charge against me was illegal and violated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly and expression.

But no sooner had my lawyer left the police station than detectives stormed my home and confronted my sister-in-law. They ransacked the house searching the wardrobes, the cupboards, the bathroom and underneath the bed. Officers even questioned my frightened five-year-old nephew.

That day, I had began to celebrate, because, although Parliament had passed the media law, Mr Mugabe, under pressure from the international community, had signalled he did intended to bring it into force immediately.

But the clampdown on the media which had been anticipated was already happening to myself and others without a legal basis.

Yesterday morning, my lawyer called at the police station again. The police told him they would resume their hunt for me and they were scheduled to visit my home late yesterday.

Mr Hondora later advised me that he saw no alternative for me but to surrender to the police. He will accompany me to the police station today, but says he cannot anticipate what will happen. My safety is no longer guaranteed and I no longer feel secure.

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