Thursday, April 05, 2007

Zim journalist murdered over leaked photos

A local journalist suspected of having links to Zimbabwe's opposition has been found murdered following an escalation of the government's campaign of violence and intimidation.

Edward Chikombo, a part-time cameraman for the state broadcaster ZBC, was abducted from his home in the Glenview township outside Harare last week. His body was discovered at the weekend near the village of Darwendale, 50 miles west of the capital, The Independent has learnt.

There are concerns in Harare that the killing may be linked to the smuggling out of the country of television pictures of the badly injured opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after he was beaten up by police on 11 March.

A former colleague of Mr Chikombo said: "It's not clear whether the murder was a message to the media or a political killing." The footage of Mr Tsvangirai leaving a Harare courthouse with a suspected fractured skull, and then lying in a hospital bed, provoked a storm of international criticism of Robert Mugabe's regime. Journalists for the state broadcaster routinely film news as it happens in the country but cannot use the footage in heavily censored bulletins. Some pictures do find a way out of the country and in the past staff at ZBC have been sacked or harassed under suspicion of selling it to foreign broadcasters.

The government has banned both the BBC and CNN from reporting from Zimbabwe and any unacc-redited journalist faces a two-year prison sentence.

Since taking power in 1980, Mr Mugabe has nationalised media outlets and the last independent voice disappeared with the recent closure of the Daily News. Local journalists are forced to work undercover for international outlets while accreditation papers are routinely refused to organisations seen as hostile.

Eyewitnesses saw a group of armed men abduct Mr Chikombo last Thursday. His captors drove a silver pick-up truck of the same make used in numerous similar abductions during a sustained three-week terror campaign targeting government opponents.

The pattern of abductions and punishment beatings has become a terrifying nightly ritual in Zimbabwe, where scores of opposition activists and their relatives have been attacked by gangs using unmarked cars and police-issue weapons. The government has refused to confirm or deny its involvement in these "hit squads" but Mr Mugabe has spoken of the police's right to "bash" the opposition and of "terrorist acts" by opponents.

Another local journalist, Gift Phiri, a senior reporter for the exiled The Zimbabwean newspaper, was detained and beaten by police on Sunday. Mr Phiri was picked up near his home in Sunningdale, in Harare. His lawyer, Rangu Nyamurundira, said his client had been badly beaten while in custody. "When I saw him, Gift could not sit down as he had been very badly beaten on his back and his buttocks. He told me four policemen, including the chief superintendent, had tortured him for hours......

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