Basildon Peta: The British media is helping President Mugabe

From a speech by the 'Independent' journalist to a meeting of the National Union of Journalists in London
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The Independent Online

Mr Mugabe's land redistribution policies are effectively taking Zimbabwe back to the Stone Age by creating a nation of serfs and peasants. While the few thousand peasants who have benefited will be able to produce barely enough to feed themselves, what about the millions of other Zimbabweans who will not be able to get small pieces of land but have been able to get their food from the large scale production on commercial farms.

Mugabe's land revolution is not necessary because land redistribution can proceed without violence even if Mr Mugabe wanted to expel all whites from Zimbabwe and take their land as he has threatened. He can simply shepherd them to the airport.

It's not only the Zimbabwean economy that has suffered in Mr Mugabe's drive to stay in power. Institutions of democracy have suffered as well; the Supreme Court has been stuffed with his friends.

The media has suffered the most of all. Newspaper printing presses and offices have been bombed and destroyed, journalists have been routinely arrested. None of the perpetrators of the violence have been arrested. The situation has not been helped by Mr Mugabe's identification of unlikely conspirators in some sections of the British media.

In early February I was illegally arrested and charged under the draconian Public Order and Security Act (POSA). I had organised a demonstration against a new media law that will, among other ridiculous things, put Zimbabwean journalists on a system of one-year licences. Prior to my arrest, I had suffered a lot of humiliation when my home was ransacked and searched by the police without a search warrant.

This was not the first time I was harassed by the Zimbabwe police. Since I became secretary general of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists in 1997, I have lived with frequent death threats. The manner in which the report of my arrest was later twisted and manipulated by the British media will forever live to haunt me.

Many of you will remember a version of my arrest which I wrote in The Independent. Let me emphatically state that I stand by that report despite attempts to rubbish it by some sections of the press. At the end of the day, I was the only person who experienced the conditions I was subjected to that night and I am the best person to explain what transpired. The British media took a particular interest. Virtually all the main broadsheet newspapers contacted me, and I explained to them why I had omitted explaining the period I was briefly released to take my medication from home in the middle of the night in the company of the police. I remain convinced that I did a good thing in keeping silent on my four-hour release that night. I needed to protect the detectives who had been assigned to look after me and had been generous to allow me an opportunity to go home.

Those among you who have followed events in Zimbabwe will recall how Mr Mugabe has purged the police force of all officers perceived to be sympathetic to his opponents. Of all the newspapers that interviewed me, The Times came up with a unique angle. They said I had admitted to lying about facts of my arrest.

President Mugabe has personally used the first edition Times story to demonise me. If I go back to Zimbabwe, he will use the Times story to charge me under the POSA and throw me in jail for five years. The muzzled courts are on his side.

My appeal to you, my colleagues, is that you must stop being reckless. My entire life and livelihood has been destroyed by The Times. The habit of writing stories about Zimbabwe, while you are 3,000 miles away in the comfort of London, must stop.

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