The authorities in Zimbabwe have arrested a freelance reporter who works for The New York Times and accused him of obtaining fake credentials for two other Times journalists who made a reporting trip there recently, his lawyers said Friday.
The reporter, Jeffrey Moyo, 37, who was arrested on Wednesday, has denied any wrongdoing, and his lawyers have called the accusation spurious. Efforts by the lawyers to secure his release have so far been unsuccessful.
Mr. Moyo, who is based in Harare and has a wife and 8-year-old son, has done work for The Times and a number of other news organizations, including The Globe and Mail of Canada. His arrest has come amid a crackdown on press freedom in the southern African country.
“We are deeply concerned by Jeffrey Moyo’s arrest and are assisting his lawyers to secure his timely release,” The Times said in a statement. “Jeffrey is a widely respected journalist with many years of reporting experience in Zimbabwe and his detainment raises troubling questions about the state of press freedom in Zimbabwe.”
One of his lawyers, Douglas Coltart, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Moyo was accused of having made a false statement to help others enter Zimbabwe, a violation of the country’s immigration law.
Mr. Coltart said the accusation was linked to Mr. Moyo’s procurement of journalist accreditation cards from the Zimbabwe Media Commission for two Times journalists in South Africa, Christina Goldbaum and João Silva, who flew to the city of Bulawayo on May 5.
Four days into their trip, the visiting journalists were ordered to leave after immigration officials advised them and Mr. Moyo that official notice of their accreditation credentials had not been received from the necessary authorities.
Mr. Moyo was subsequently arrested because immigration officials are “now saying those accreditation cards were fake,” Mr. Coltart said.
An official of the Zimbabwe Media Commission, Thabang Farai Manhika, also was arrested, according to a police document shared by Mr. Coltart.
Mr. Moyo was recently moved from police custody in Harare to a prison in the central police station of Bulawayo, where Mr. Coltart said he was being held in harsh conditions.
“Most of his clothes were taken away,” Mr. Coltart said. “He was on a cold, hard concrete floor, crammed into a cell with 18 others.”
A request for bail was initially denied, Mr. Coltart said, after prosecutors objected on grounds that the matter was “a national security issue, because foreign journalists came into the country without the knowledge of the Ministry of Information.”
Such an accusation was not in the police report on Mr. Moyo, the lawyer said.
“That’s when I realized this case is getting highly politicized,” Mr. Coltart said. A further ruling on bail was expected Monday, he said.
The police and Information Ministry officials in Zimbabwe could not be reached immediately for comment on Mr. Moyo’s case.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group, said in a statement that Mr. Moyo’s arrest reflected a pattern of media repression in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwean authorities must immediately release journalist Jeffrey Moyo, who should never have been detained, let alone charged,” said Angela Quintal, the group’s Africa program coordinator. “The fact that he was arrested, and his New York Times colleagues forced to leave the country, shows that Zimbabwe continues to violate the right to press freedom and the public’s right to know.”