My narrow escape from the CIO (01-03-07

GWERU - I had to make a hurried escape from President Robert Mugabe's birthday, with intelligence operatives in hot pursuit after they learnt I was a reporter with The Zimbabwean. I felt both terrified and outraged as I arrived safely back at my hotel room, after being singled

out for vindictive treatment among a group of journalists that included reporters from the Sunday Mail, the Chronicle, The Standard, as well as correspondents from other foreign organizations such as Reuters, AFP, and Al Jazeera.
Journalists are supposed to be dispassionate observers of life but it is very difficult to maintain this position when you are harassed for doing your job. Around 13:00 hours on Saturday, just before the arrival of Mugabe for his birthday party, I was accosted by two officers, presumably from the Central Intelligence Organisation, in front of fellow journalists, government and Zanu (PF) officials.
They demanded to see my “details” but I refused to cooperate because Mavis Gumbo, a level-headed lady who works in the Information Ministry, had escorted me into that VIP section, together with 14 other journalists. We had explained to Gumbo the importance of giving us an opportunity to cover the event, despite our expired accreditation.
Among the 15 journalists who were allowed to cover the event, three quarters of them had last year’s accreditation cards after failing to raise the Z$10,000 a day penalty now required by the Media and Information Commission for late registration.
I have it on good authority that as I write, all journalists at the State-owned Chronicle newspaper have not been accredited because the paper cannot raise the Z$5 million needed for late registration of its journalists with the MIC. I was not really surprised that they demanded my “details” while conveniently ignoring journalists from the Chronicle who, just like me, had last year’s accreditation.
I insisted they speak to Gumbo and quickly made good my escape by running into a tent full of ruling party supporters from Chiredzi, where I removed my distinctive chequered shirt, leaving me with a sleeveless vest. I learnt later that the two intelligence operatives had returned, breathing fire and demanding to know where I had gone. A colleague called my mobile and said: “Phiri, run my brother. Run now,” before hanging up.
As I sat still among the Chiredzi ruling party supporters, I saw the two officers thoroughly combing tent after tent, hunting for me. What crime had I committed?
As soon as Mugabe started cutting his cake, drawing the attention of many in the stadium, including security forces, I folded my shirt under my vest and dashed out of the stadium to the nearby Mkoba 6 Shopping Centre where I jumped into a moving commuter omnibus, hanging precariously to the door. A narrow escape indeed!

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