Zimbabwe journalist arrested over election report

A Zimbabwean journalist has been arrested over a report that the police force was hiring war veterans to increase its power in preparation for elections next year, a lawyer said Thursday.

President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party was accused of using war veterans and police to beat and torture opposition supporters during the last elections, in 2008.

Lawyer Josaphat Tshuma said his client Nqodani Ndlovu, a Standard Newspaper reporter in the southern town of Bulawayo, was still being held a day after being arrested on charges of criminal defamation. A criminal defamation conviction can carry a penalty of up to two years' imprisonment.

Tshuma said police also wanted to question Harare-based editor Nevanji Madanhire about the report in Sunday's edition of the newspaper that said retired police and war veterans are being recalled to direct operations during elections.

For the past decade, Zimbabwean journalists, particularly those working for independent publications, have faced arrest and harassment. Some pressure eased after Mugabe was forced to join his longtime opponents in a coalition government last year following the inconclusive, violence-marred 2008 vote. But laws that make it a crime to practice journalism without a government license remain on the books.

The strained coalition government completes its two-year term in February. Deep divisions have kept government officials from making much progress preparing for new elections, but Mugabe has vowed to call them next year, perhaps unilaterally.