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Zimbabwe police arrest journalists over 'false statements'

From Columbus S. Mavhunga, For CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Police accuse journalists of writing "false statements" and undermining public confidence in law enforcement agents
  • Union of journalists say the arrests are "an intimidating tactic"
  • Newspaper had reported that officer had taken part in arrest; police dispute that

(CNN) -- Zimbabwe police arrested Wednesday an editor, a reporter and executive of a weekly newspaper for writing "false statements" about an official's arrest, their lawyer has said.

Attorney Linda Cook confirmed to CNN that editor Nevanje Madanhire, reporter Patience Nyangove and executive Loud Ramakgapola had been arrested in connection with a story The Sunday Standard published last weekend. Cook is the attorney for all three newspaper defendants.

In the story, about the arrest of Jameson Timba, a minister in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office, the newspaper said Crispen Makedenge was one of the arresting officers. Police say Makedenge was not on that squad.

Timba, international relations secretary for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, had been arrested on charges of "undermining" President Robert Mugabe by calling him a "liar." Timba was released on Sunday after a High Court judge ruled that his arrest was not procedural.

Cook said of her clients, "The police charged them with publishing false statements prejudicial to the state and undermining public confidence in the law enforcement agents." Nyangove and Ramakgapola had been released Wednesday evening, she said.

"They will appear in court tomorrow (Thursday) together with Madanhire," she said.

The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists condemned the arrests, saying it was "an intimidating tactic."

"I think the police want to cow us as the country heads for elections," said Foster Dongozi, secretary general of the union, in an interview. "We have for long argued that the state has not reformed to allow media freedom. Suppose the officer in question was not there, the police can point out that and the newspaper can retract that instead of arresting the journalists."