Harare – A Sky News journalist has spoken of how Zimbabwe officials held her and a cameraperson in a room for 12 hours this week, searching their phones and documents and refusing them access to a lawyer before they were finally deported.
Alex Crawford, a British journalist who is currently based in South Africa, and cameraperson Garwen McLuckie were picked up shortly after they interviewed popular “protest pastor” Evan Mawarire in Harare following his release from police custody on Wednesday.
In an article posted on Sky’s website Crawford said: “Shortly after our interview with the pastor the Sky crew (cameraman Garwen McLuckie and me) were detained at our lodgings and invited to accompany a team of police and immigration officials to the international airport in the back of a police van.”
“This was despite an invitation we had been given from officials, clearing all usual immigration channels on landing in the capital and being escorted by a group of government workers on arrival,” Crawford added.
“We were held in a room for about 12 hours while we were questioned by a large group of officials, our bags searched, telephones examined and all personal and official documents inspected with some removed and photographed,” she wrote.
The targeting of the Sky crew would bring back memories of the post-2001 clampdown on foreign journalists in Zimbabwe. Under tough AIPPA press laws, several foreign reporters were deported and many locals – almost entirely those working for the private press – have been arrested. There was an attempt to deport a Sky News crew filming in Zimbabwe in 2004 by the then information minister Jonathan Moyo, even though it later emerged that the reporters had been invited by other ruling party officials.
Foreign journalists are not allowed to work in Zimbabwe without press cards which have to be approved before they land. The requests are often denied, reporters say. Press watchdog MISA Zimbabwe suggested the pair did not have press cards.
Crawford said that when their lawyer arrived at the airport, the pair were not allowed to see him. “He was asked to remove himself from the airport grounds,” she said.
MISA-Zimbabwe said that Crawford and McLuckie were deported on Thursday morning.
President Robert Mugabe’s government is showing signs of toughening up after the huge outpouring of popular support for pastor Mawarire on Wednesday. Mawarire has led calls for strikes to protest government corruption and a recently-imposed import ban.
Private school heads from Harare who decided not to go ahead with lessons on the first of a two-day strike this week were summoned to the education ministry on Thursday. They “apologised”, state media reported.
Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo told the official Chronicle newspaper that parents should “claim their money” back from the schools over missed lessons.