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Zimbabwe Army Summons Journalists Over Reports Defense Chief Is Ailing

Journalists at the independent daily paper said they suspected trouble was brewing when Information Minister Webster Shamu delivered a thinly veiled attack on Newsday on Monday during Independence Day ceremonies

Zimbabwean armed forces officials on Tuesday called two journalists from Newsday to Defense House demanding that they disclose sources for a recent report saying Defense Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga has been in poor health.

Though Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has confirmed that Chiwenga traveled to China recently for medical care, the army still insisted on knowing the sources.

Journalists at the recently launched independent daily paper said they suspected trouble was in the offing when Information Minister Webster Shamu delivered a thinly veiled attack on Newsday in the course of his remarks as master of ceremonies during the independence day celebrations on Monday in Harare.

Shamu noted Chiwenga’s presence at the celebrations saying it should “shame” those who had said he was ill.

The two journalists – assistant editor Wisdom Mudzungaire and reporter Veneranda Langa - told the army they had received an anonymous call.

The military interrogators accused the paper of being malicious in publishing the story and warned that it must steer clear of such reports, Newsday sources said.

Intelligence sources said President Robert Mugabe's office has become alarmed at leaks of sensitive information after another presidential aide allegedly let out word that First Lady Grace Mugabe had flown to Singapore with her husband for medical attention.

Despite confirmation from Newsday sources, the paper’s editor, Brian Mangwende, denied that his reporters had been summoned by the military brass.

In another indication that the recent political crackdown continues, police in Hwange, Matabeleland North province, briefly detained three lawyers and eight members of the Movement for Democratic Change formation headed by Welshman Ncube.

Lawyers Lizwe Jamela, Nosimilo Chanayiwa and Nikiwe Ncube were detained at Hwange police station on their way to Hwange Magistrate's Court to represent Co-Minister of Healing Moses Mzila-Ndlovu of that MDC wing and Father Marko Mkandla.

The two were arrested on Friday for allegedly inciting people to revolt against President Mugabe. They were granted bail of US$500 and were to be freed on Wednesday. The lawyers said they will have to surrender their passports before being released.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Director Irene Petras told VOA that police mounted a roadblock to target the lawyers , though police said the defenders were stopped because their vehicle was not properly registered.

Spokesman Nhlanhla Dube of the Ncube MDC wing, detained along with seven other party members, said the police just wanted to harass and intimidate them.

Political analyst Charles Mangongera said the ongoing crackdown shows cracks are developing in Mr. Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF side of the unity government which includes the Ncube MDC and that led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.