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Cablegate: American Journalists Accosted by Angry Ruling

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 002783

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/S, AF/PD, DS/OP/AF

PRETORIA AND JOHANNESBURG FOR EMBOFF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PREL KPAO ZI
SUBJECT: AMERICAN JOURNALISTS ACCOSTED BY ANGRY RULING
PARTY SUPPORTERS

1. Summary: On December 7 two journalists,
including an Amcit and a South African citizen, were
surrounded, detained and lightly roughed up by a group
of about 30 ZANU-PF supporters. The incident
occurred at a shopping center in Harare's upper-middle
class Newlands neighborhood as the journalists were
interviewing and photographing people waiting in line
for bread at a retail bakery. At Emboff's urging,
members of the Zimbabwean Republic Police (ZRP) took
the journalists to a nearby police station. In a 30-
minute session at the police station, the officer in
charge refused demands by the ruling party supporters
to arrest the journalists and seize their cameras.
The officer in charge took names and contact details
of the journalists and Emboff, stated that the ZRP
would investigate the incident, and released the
journalists. This incident illustrates growing
tensions in Zimbabwe, the potential for confrontations
provoked by ruling party supporters even in urban
areas, and the relatively low "flashpoint" for such
incidents in Zimbabwe today. End Summary.

2. Saturday morning, December 7, an Amcit journalist and
a South African photojournalist (they have asked not to be
named) were interviewing and taking photographs of
Zimbabweans waiting in line to buy bread at a retail bakery
in the Newlands shopping center in an upper middle class
Harare suburb. Neither the people in the bread line nor a
passing police officer expressed any objection to the
journalists' presence. The journalists were accredited by
the Government of Zimbabwe (having paid the US$100
application and US$500 registration fees) and were carrying
the GoZ-issued media accreditation documents that give them
permission to be in Zimbabwe until January 5, 2003.

3. Within a few minutes of their arrival at the bread
line, a hostile, roughly 30-year old man, who apparently
believed he had the right to make a "citizen's arrest,"
accosted the two journalists. He attempted to relieve the
photographer of his cameras, claiming that the journalists
were violating citizens' right to privacy, were violating
Zimbabwean sovereignty, and were intending to damage
Zimbabwe by publishing photographs and articles that would
"make it appear that there are problems here." Within a
few minutes a crowd of about 30 hostile young men
surrounded the two journalists. Angrily shouted comments
from the crowd indicated its adherence to government
opinions about the western media's role in helping to
create Zimbabwe's current difficulties. The journalists
were pushed and shoved, some in the crowd attempted to
steal the photographer's cameras, and the photographer was
slapped on the head and shoulders two or three times.
There were no injuries.

4. The group of young men wanted to take the reporters
into an empty field near the shopping center, saying that
they were going to a police station. The reporters held
their ground, and were able to call Emboff and Zimbabwe
Republic Police (ZRP). Emboff informed the RSO of the
incident in progress and then drove to the shopping center,
about 5 minutes from his residence. Emboff arrived at the
shopping center shortly after the ZRP and found the two
journalists, now joined by another Amcit journalist (also
properly accredited), standing next to a police vehicle and
surrounded by approximately 30 agitated young men. The
incident had become something of a spectacle and was
attracting a larger crowd. Emboff spoke with the police
officer in charge of the vehicle and urged that he defuse
the situation by taking the journalists to the nearest
police station. The ZRP officer agreed and Emboff said he
would follow in his own car. Two of the journalists and
three of the "complainants" traveled to the police station
in the ZRP vehicle. Emboff and the third journalist
followed.

5. The group went to the nearby Tomlinson Depot police
station and was shown into the office of Superintendent J.
Chani, Officer in Command of the Diplomatic Protection
Unit. Superintendent Chani listened to both sides of the
story, including a great deal of bluster and bad
information from the "complainants," and stated he could
not see that any crime had been committed. To mollify the
"complainants," he took the names and contact details of
the 3 journalists and the Emboff, said that he would
investigate the incident and that if there were any charges
to be filed, he would be able to contact the journalists
through the Emboff. The journalists and Emboff spent about
30 minutes at the police station, most of that time
dedicated to the xenophobic diatribes of the
"complainants." These people either truly believed, or
were paid to believe, Government of Zimbabwe propaganda
about a western conspiracy to damage Zimbabwe. Even though
the "complainants" remained angry and wanted the ZRP to
seize the cameras as "evidence," Superintendent Chani gave
Emboff permission to depart with the journalists.

6. Comment: Although this incident pales in comparison
to the sort of mob rule experienced by thousands of
Zimbabweans since February 2000, it is noteworthy that this
is the first time that international journalists have
seriously been threatened by ruling party supporters in
Harare. Up until this incident, international journalists
were aware of the dangers of vigilantism in rural areas but
believed that they could work freely in Harare. We believe
this incident demonstrates a rising level of desperation
and anger among unemployed young men. It also shows how
easily these frustrations can be converted into ruling
party-tinged hostility against outsiders, especially
foreign journalists.

7. Comment continued: The journalists involved in this
incident do not want the USG to make an issue of it. They
are concerned that raising the profile of the incident
could make it even more difficult, if not impossible, for
them to work in Zimbabwe. Given the extraordinary
difficulty of getting permission to work here, they prefer
not to risk expulsion or banishment. The reporters do,
however, agree that the incident marks an escalation of the
level of tension in Zimbabwe and a departure from the
relative freedom international journalists have had to work
in Harare and other major urban areas. End comment.

WHITEHEAD

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