afrol.com, 18 February - BBC correspondent Joseph Winter (29) had to seek refuge in the British Embassy in Harare this night, after unknown had tried to break into his house. The attack came after he and a South African correspondent were given 24 hours to leave the country on Saturday by the Zimbabwean government. The British government has protested against this "intimidation".
Joseph Winter (BBC) and Mercedes Sayagues, Zimbabwe correspondent of South Africa's most important newspaper Mail and Guardian, were expelled from Zimbabwe on Saturday. The government refers to a recent change in the rules for the accreditation of journalists and claim that the two correspondents do not have a valid working permit.
Winter has been in Zimbabwe four years and has written critically about the Mugabe government. He renewed his working permit only three weeks ago. "We are expelling him because his work permit is invalid because it was issued irregularly and fraudulently by an officer with no authority," mighty Information Minister Jonathan Moyo said on state television on Saturday.
Mr. Winter tells the BBC that the claims by the government are "absolute rubbish" and he has already challenged the expulsion, achieving ruling from a court in Harare that delays the expulsion for five days. According to a BBC spokesman, "The BBC believes he has a valid permit to work and stay in the country and therefore has made representations to the relevant ministries."
The night after challenging the expulsion, a gang of six men tried to break into the flat of Mr. Winter. Joseph Winter said the men climbed a garden wall and began banging on doors and shouting for him to open up. "We were terrified, and we thought they were going to kill us," Mr. Winter told his employers. "We don't know who these people were." The incident was only resolved after a Reuters reporter and other journalists arrived at the scene, causing the attackers to escape.
The identity of the six men remains unknown. It is however known that the government has made use of violent groups and individuals in earlier intimidation campaigns. Although government involvement has not been directly proved, these campaigns have targeted the free media (bomb attacks and raids) and the opposition (murder, arson, abduction, threats, etc.).
The British Government has strongly protested against what it calls "intimidation of BBC journalist in Zimbabwe", thus referring to the attack on Mr. Winter's flat this night. Foreign Office Minister Brian Wilson this afternoon expressed "his concern at the intimidation and attempted expulsion of Joe Winter" in Zimbabwe. "Expelling journalists cannot prevent the world from seeing what is happening in Zimbabwe or anywhere else," Mr. Wilson said. "In recent weeks the Government of Zimbabwe has also harassed and pressurised members of the judiciary. We share the UN's concern about this interference," he continued.
Also the Mail and Guardian correspondent Mercedes Sayagues (47) on Saturday was given 24 hours to leave Zimbabwe. Mrs. Sayagues has been working in Zimbabwe for nine years. A Uruguayan citizen, she also claims to have her permits and papers straight, having obtained a month's extension until February 26.
Being on a two-day visit in Johannesburg when receiving the expulsion order, she was at first denied to return to Harare. "First they refused me entry and wanted me to fly back to South Africa. It was only after I pleaded that I wanted to re-unite with my nine-year-old daughter that they gave me 24 hours to leave the country," Sayagues told reporters.
She is also to challenge the expulsion, and the Harare court ruling delaying Mr. Winter's expulsion for five days was also made valid for Mrs. Sayagues. The lawyer representing Mr. Winter in the Harare court has however stated that government officials, including the Minister of Information and Chief Immigration Officer, refuse to accept the order and say they will not abide by it. It is therefore uncertain if Mrs. Sayagues and Mr. Winter are allowed to challenge the expulsion in Zimbabwe.
The Mail and Guardian reacted with disgust to the expulsion announcement. Its front page was today titled "Mugabe government plumbs new depths" in huge letters. "Fresh from a series of bizarre attacks on the press, its judiciary and the main opposition, Zimbabwe's headlong plunge into chaos and international condemnation has been given fresh momentum with the expulsion," they commented on the episode.
The South African public has turned against former ally Mugabe for a long time, only awaiting the ANC government to take a stand against the dictator. South African Mail and Guardian has contributed to this, publishing high quality analyses critical to Mugabe's regime.