Zimbabwe holds reporter over 'decapitation' story

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The Independent Online

Police in Zimbabwe arrested The Guardian's Harare correspondent, Andrew Meldrum, yesterday in a continuing crackdown on independent journalists.

Mr Meldrum, 51, who is American by birth but has permanent residence in Zimbabwe, was picked up from his home in Harare on a charge of "abusing journalistic privilege and publishing false news", which carries a two-year jail sentence.

He is the seventh independent journalist to have been arrested under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act passed shortly after Robert Mugabe won a new term in the presidential election in March, which according to most international observers was rigged.

The arrest of Mr Meldrum follows the detention on Tuesday of two journalists on Zimbabwe's only independent daily, the Daily News, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza. All three are being held over a story last week alleging that a 53-year-old supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was decapitated by pro-government militias in full view of her two young daughters. The police have denied the report.

Mr Meldrum has also been repeatedly named by the government in its attacks on British media coverage of Zimbabwe's two-year political and economic crisis. He was still in police custody last night.

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian criticised the arrest and demanded his immediate release. "It is outrageous that he should be the subject of criminal charges for doing the job of a reporter and we call on the Zimbabwean government to release him immediately and to drop charges against him and his colleagues on the Daily News," he said.

The MDC originally announced the "murder" of Brandina Tadyanemhandu in Magunje, Mashonaland West Province, but later retracted the statement, saying her husband had cooked up the story in an attempt to get money for her funeral.

Interviewed by the Daily News, her husband said his wife had been "murdered". The newspaper has since admitted it could have been misled by Mr Tadyanemhandu, who failed to show reporters his wife's grave, and has retracted its story. International news agencies and newspapers outside Zimbabwe published the story quoting the Daily News and the MDC. It is believed Mr Tadyanemhandu could have been used by the ruling Zanu-PF party as part of an attempt to discredit reports about the continuing onslaught against the opposition by pro-Mugabe militants.

Human rights groups say 54 opposition supporters have been killed since the election and thousands of others have been beaten, tortured and injured.

The Commercial Farmers Union announced yesterday that Thomas Bayley, an 89-year-old farmer who was besieged in his home for 37 days by Mugabe supporters, had died in his sleep.

Mr Bayley and his wife, Edith, 79, had refused to comply with an order to leave a farm in Mazowe which an unnamed top government official had earmarked for seizure. Mr Bayley, who was hailed as a symbol of farmers' resistance against the illegal land invasions, was admitted to hospital last week after collapsing at his home.

At a May Day rally, Lovemore Matombo, the president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, described Mr Mugabe as an "enemy" of the people, and said the labour movement would soon call for a general strike to protest against his policies.