Spreading the word: Labour MP Kate Hoey listens to Nkomo’s harrowing story
The chief executive of Zimbabwe’s banned Daily News has told how he and fellow directors of the newspaper were kept in a cell infested with lice and bed bugs following their arrest.
Sam Nkomo said he and other directors of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe were held by police after The Daily News reappeared for one day last month, but was again forced to close.
Nkomo, whose niece was held hostage by police searching for him, voluntarily gave himself up along with three ANZ directors. They were then charged with operating a newspaper without a licence.
Speaking at a press conference in London, Nkomo said: “We were taken to the cells and I heard a policewoman say, ‘These are special people, give them a special cell’. I felt we were being treated so nicely. Little did I know was that ‘special cell’ was one infested with lice and bed bugs; there were millions of them in there.”
The next day fellow prisoners came to their rescue and swapped cells with them. “They sacrificed themselves for us. That’s Zimbabwe. That’s our country we love so much.”
Nkomo, who supported the struggle for liberation and was jailed for 15 years under the Ian Smith regime, said: “I did not believe in my lifetime that I would see a government I helped to install and the freedom I helped to fight for utterly turn against me.”
He accused Robert Mugabe’s regime of trying to “wear The Daily News down” through the courts and bankrupt it by costly legal actions.
Police seized the newspaper’s computers as “evidence” when it was first closed down in an armed police raid on 12 September.
“We are trying to get our journalists laptops to work from home or places other than our offices,” Nkomo said. “We employ 340 staff, including journalists, and have 1,000 vendors dependent on The Daily News. The strategy of the regime is to scatter staff so that when we come back we will have lost the staff.”
The Daily News is trying to get newspapers outside Zimbabwe to give some of its journalists jobs until they are safe to return. Nkomo said The Daily News was determined to keep up its legal battle to win the right to publish and was also trying to mobilise international pressure to get Mugabe to stop persecuting the newspaper.
He called on the British Government to be more outspoken in its condemnation of the Mugabe regime, claiming: “Quiet diplomacy is doing no good. I think the British Government should be more vocal in support of the masses in Zimbabwe.”
Bill Saidi, editor of The Daily News on Sunday, said a reign of terror had been unleashed against independent journalists in the country.
“If you live in Zimbabwe as a journalist you can feel like a terrorist,” he said. “They call you names, say you are disloyal, and a ‘puppet of the imperialists’.”
Saidi spoke of his desperation at seeing his newsroom stripped of its computers. “There’s a vast emptiness in the newsroom. There’s no conference because there’s no paper. You are looking at nothing. Tomorrow there is nothing.”
“After the Saturday we published, we all came into the office and we were full of spirit. We were going to produce 16 pages. We were all ready.
Half the newspaper was done.” Instead, the paper was raided by police and has not published since.
Gugu Moyo, company secretary and legal adviser to The Daily News, told the press conference that 60 journalists had been arrested under the notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“This law is to silence the independent media,” she said. “Every two weeks a journalist is arrested and charged with something. The impact of this law is very traumatic and has a chilling effect on journalists.”
Anyone able to donate a laptop to The Daily News can contact Press Gazette on 020 8565 4448.
By Jon Slattery