Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the libel suit which President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, has brought against the independent weekly The Standard for quoting a US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks accusing her of involvement in diamond trafficking. She is demanding 15 million US dollars in damages.
“The First Lady’s libel suit aims to undermine The Standard, which just reported information available to everyone thanks to WikiLeaks,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It highlights the dangers of reporting compromising allegations about senior officials or people linked to the government in Zimbabwe. Grace Mugabe did not think twice about abusing her position in an attempt to cripple this newspaper”
The press freedom organization added: “This case is one more example of how the government is trying to strangle critical news media financially. Suing The Standard for such an exorbitant sum in damages is tantamount to forcing it to shut down.”
“Once you are sued, you are forced to turn to lawyers, which is very expensive” said Wilf Mbanga, the publisher of another newspaper, The Zimbabwean. “Little by little, this can bankrupt us,” he added.
Filed on 15 December, the libel suit was prompted by a report about a 2008 cable in which the then US ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGee, told Washington that Grace Mugabe and other members of the Zimbabwean elite were earning substantial sums from trafficking in diamonds from the Chiadzwa mine in the eastern region of Marange. He estimated that the First Lady and her partners were earning "several hundred thousand dollars a month" from the trade.
The libel suits brought by Grace Mugabe and by central bank governor Gideon Gono, who is alleged to have printed additional Zimbabwean banknotes to finance her purchases of diamonds from the mine, come on the heels of other lawsuits that have been brought against the weekly.
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu is suing the newspaper for 25 million US dollars over a story about a property-buying spree. Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe is suing it for 500,000 US dollars over an article that insinuated she was pregnant by a wealthy Zimbabwean businessman. The state-owned Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation is suing it for 10 million US dollars over a story saying its executives were getting rich while delaying the payment of journalists’ salaries.
The First Lady’s libel suit has exacerbated the already tense relations between the authorities and The Standard, one of few independent newspapers in a country that has been deprived of press freedom for many years. Last month, its editor, Nevanji Madanhire, was detained for more than 24 hours, while one of its reporters Nqobani Ndlovu, was held for nine days. More informations
Photo : AFP