HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Three journalists from a state-run weekly newspaper in Zimbabwe will be charged with slander for a front-page story that implicated an unnamed top police officer and other officials in fatal cyanide poisonings of more than 60 elephants by poachers, police said Tuesday.
Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa, investigations editor Brian Chitemba and reporter Tinashe Farawo were arrested on Monday, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said.
"The editors and reporters cannot be allowed to hide behind the privilege of press freedom to peddle falsehoods," Charamba said. "Our investigations show that the trio is lying."
Amnesty International called the detention of the three journalists "a shocking attempt to threaten freedom of the press" and called for their immediate release.
"Arresting journalists on the basis of 'publishing falsehoods' has a chilling effect that may restrict the ability of the media to expose alleged criminal activities by the authorities," said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Southern Africa. "These actions create a climate of fear in Zimbabwe and perpetuate impunity."
Defense lawyer James Muzangaza said his clients will appear in court Wednesday.
The Sunday Mail this week ran a front-page story citing unnamed sources as saying a syndicate including an unnamed police assistant commissioner, park rangers and foreign nationals from Asia were involved in the cyanide poisoning of elephants.
Parks officials said on Oct. 26 that cyanide poisoning had killed 22 elephants in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, bringing to 62 the number of elephants killed by that method in October. In 2013, more than 100 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in Hwange.
This story was corrected to show that more than 100 elephants died from cyanide poisoning in 2013, not more than 200.