HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A young political activist who compared Zimbabwe’s president to a lame donkey will spend another week in jail, his attorney said Tuesday.
Defense lawyer Charles Kwaramba said state prosecutors used a contentious appeal law to stop a court order to free Solomon Madzore, head of the youth wing of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party, on $100 bail.
Madzore, at an election rally, allegedly called President Robert Mugabe, 89, “a limping donkey” who should be put out to pasture.
He faces a fine or several months’ imprisonment. Arrests for insulting Mugabe are common in Zimbabwe. At least 60 have been arrested and charged with insulting Mugabe since 2010, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
Also Tuesday, Zimbabwean police took in for questioning two journalists from an independent newspaper on allegations of publishing “falsehoods” against state institutions involving reports that generals and security chiefs were willing to meet with Tsvangirai. Tsvangirai would like to speak to security chiefs about reforms in the armed forces he says are needed before the elections expected around September.
Dumisani Muleya, editor of The Independent, a business and political weekly newspaper, and chief reporter Owen Gagare were released later in the day after police said their investigations into the allegations were continuing.
Mugabe’s two topmost generals have said publicly that they will not meet with Tsvangirai and the Independent’s reports that other generals are willing to meet with Tsvangirai allegedly demoralized the ranks of the police and military and jeopardized state security.
Media freedom groups immediately warned of a renewed clampdown against journalists ahead of the upcoming elections.
“We still have all the apparatus of a police state,” despite a referendum that overwhelmingly accepted a new constitution in March that envisages an end to sweeping media curbs, said the independent Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum.
The intimidation of the two senior journalists came days after the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, said the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe.
“It is undemocratic for the state to seek and continue to criminalize the work of professional journalists,” it said.
Rights groups say there has been an increase in arrests and intimidation of media staff and Mugabe’s opponents as the nation prepares for elections to end the shaky coalition brokered by regional leaders in 2009 after violent and disputed elections in 2008 that made Tsvangirai, 60, the former opposition leader, the country’s prime minister.
Sweeping security laws make it an offense to undermine the authority of the president.
“Obnoxious” security and media laws have been used by police loyal to Mugabe to stifle media freedom and political campaigning by his opponents, said the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
“It is saddening to note Zimbabwe is still saddled with an arsenal of repressive media and criminal laws that are too broad or vague,” the group said.