Image: Gertrude Hwambira
Themba Hadebe  /  AP
Gertrude Hwambira, secretary-general of Zimbabwe's largest farm worker union, speaks at a press conference detailing problems facing 40,000 Zimbabwean farm workers since the March 29 election.
updated 5/8/2008 4:49:37 PM ET 2008-05-08T20:49:37

The editor of an independent Zimbabwean newspaper has been arrested, and the country's largest farm union said Thursday that 40,000 farm workers have been displaced in post-election violence.

Davison Maruziva, editor of the Standard newspaper, was taken by police from the newspaper's office Thursday, the publisher said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said prominent human rights lawyer Harrison Nkomo also was arrested in central Harare on Wednesday. Police could not be reached for comment.

Maruziva was accused of publishing "false statements prejudicial to the state," said Iden Wetherell, group editor of the Standard, which is published Sundays, and its sister paper, the Zimbabwe Independent business and political weekly.

Nkomo faces charges of "insulting or undermining the authority of the head of state," Human Rights Watch said.

Accused of contempt of court
Maruziva, a veteran Zimbabwean journalist who is in his 50s, also was accused of contempt of court for publishing an article by opposition leader Arthur Mutamabara in the Standard on April 20.

Mutamabara wrote of irregularities in the conduct of the courts, judicial officials and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party in the March 29 election. He also accused Mugabe of betraying the nation's independence and coercing voters through violence and vote rigging, leaving the opposition "bludgeoned and brutalized."

"This latest arrest represents a most serious attack on press and political freedom in Zimbabwe," Wetherell said in a statement.

Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said the arrest of Nkomo "may signal the government's escalation of its crackdown on perceived opponents."

Nkomo is the first lawyer arrested for alleged opposition activities in a crackdown that began after the March 29 elections, although others have been harassed.

He recently secured bail for two journalists, one of whom works for the opposition. It was while representing these clients that Nkomo allegedly told a staff member at the attorney general's office, a nephew of Mugabe, that Mugabe should leave office, the New York-based watchdog said in a statement.

A 2002 law makes it a crime in Zimbabwe to criticize the president or his office.

Opposition supporters under attack
As Zimbabwe awaits word on when a presidential runoff will be held, opposition party supporters are increasingly under attack.

It took Zimbabwe's electoral commission more than a month to announce results from the March 29 first round of voting. Independent rights activists have accused the ruling party of using that time to mount a campaign of violence and intimidation to undermine support for the opposition before a runoff.

More attacks have been reported since May 2, when electoral officials announced that Movement for Democratic Change President Morgan Tsvangirai won the most votes March 29, but not the majority needed to avoid a runoff with Mugabe.

In the time since the election, militia groups have driven 40,000 workers off farms in an effort to prevent them from voting in the run-off, according to a report released in Johannesburg, South Africa, by the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe.

In the election, Mugabe lost much of his traditional rural support to Tsvangirai. But by intimidating and displacing enough farm workers, ZANU-PF loyalists might be able to win the run-off, the union said.

Escalation attacks alleged
John Worsley-Worswick, the head of the Justice for Agriculture Trust, an advocacy group, said at the same news conference that attacks on farm workers have escalated in the past week.

The report details beatings, burned huts, and intimidation. One former farm worker was beaten with iron bars and sticks, and another farmer was strangled with a wire, the group said.

The two organizations said 142 farms had been invaded since the election. Many of the 400 remaining white commercial farmers have been assaulted.

Meanwhile, a Zimbabwean photographer for Reuters, Howard Burditt, was released on bail Thursday after been held by police in Harare for three days for allegedly using a satellite phone to transmit pictures, the agency said.

David Schlesinger, Reuters editor-in-chief, earlier said the agency had complied with Zimbabwean media regulations.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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