From the Worldwide Faith News archives

LWF Protests Zimbabwe's Treatment of Communicators

From "Frank Imhoff" <>
Date Thu, 13 Feb 2003 13:33:38 -0600

LWF General Secretary Protests Zimbabwe's Treatment of
International Church Communicators
"The Lutheran World Federation is Not a Political Entity, Does not
Endorse Political Positions"

GENEVA, 13 February 2003 (LWI) - The general secretary of the
Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko, has sharply
criticized Zimbabwean authorities for the treatment of a team of
international church communicators, recently detained by local
police in Zvishavane, a mining town 400 kilometers south of the
capital Harare.

The communicators, traveling under the auspices of the LWF,
legally entered Zimbabwe for their January 24-28 mission - to draw
attention to issues related to HIV/AIDS and food shortages in
southern Africa, and the need for global support for ongoing
relief and development work in the region.

In an open letter, made public today, to Zimbabwe's Deputy
Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Rugare Gumbo, the general secretary
notes that the authorities' actions toward the LWF communication
team members "have undoubtedly further tarnished Zimbabwe's image

The team members "were subjected to verbal threats of imprisonment
by the investigating officers," Noko notes. Although all charges
against them were eventually dropped, they continued to be treated
as a suspicious group. "Their lawyer was denied access to them at
the Harare airport where they had been driven under heavy police
escort late in the night of January 28." On January 29, with their
impounded passports and tickets handed over from the Zimbabwean
authorities to airline officials, they proceeded to Malawi for the
second part of their visitation program.

Noko makes specific reference to the local journalist from The
Daily News - an independent newspaper - who accompanied the five
communicators from Finland, Germany, Kenya and the USA: "I confirm
that Mr Jongwe participated in the visitation program organized by
the LWF. He has the constitutional right, like all Zimbabweans, to
his political views and their full expression, as a legacy of the
struggle for justice, freedom, democracy and independence in
Zimbabwe," the LWF general secretary states.

The LWF "is not a political entity, and does not endorse party
political positions," he continues. "Our objective is promoting
respect for and the protection of human dignity - which is
God-given - as a fundamental element of our Christian faith and

The full text of LWF general secretary, Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko's
open letter to Zimbabwe's Deputy Minister for Home Affairs

Your Excellency,

I write in relation to the recent detention and interrogation,
during the period 24-28 January 2003, of a team of church
communicators traveling under the auspices of the Lutheran World
Federation. These individuals were participating in a visitation
program in southern Africa at the request of the LWF for the
purpose of helping to raise international awareness of critical
humanitarian needs in the region.

The legislation and regulations currently in force in Zimbabwe
provide for special arrangements in relation to church
communicators. The LWF dispatched this team of communicators for
purposes related to the activities of the LWF in the region, and
they were notified to and registered with the Zimbabwean
authorities as required.

After the members of the team had been interrogated, I personally
spoke to you and to Mr Baiwa, the Member-in-Charge of the Criminal
Investigation Department, in order to explain the purpose of the
visitation program and clarify the role of the team of
communicators in visiting Zimbabwe. Despite these explanations and
clarifications, the members of the team were treated as a
suspicious group for several days.

When we spoke, you sought my explanation as to why our
communicators had been seen "wining and dining" - as you put it -
with Mr Fanuel Jongwe, a Zimbabwean journalist considered by you
to be opposed to the Government.

I confirm that Mr Jongwe participated in the visitation program
organized by the LWF. He has the constitutional right, like all
Zimbabweans, to his political views and to their full expression,
as a legacy of the struggle for justice, freedom, democracy and
independence in Zimbabwe. These values inspired those who engaged
in the struggle for Zimbabwe's independence. Their observance
makes independence worthwhile.

As I explained to you when we spoke, the Lutheran World Federation
is not a political entity, and does not endorse party political
positions. Our objective is promoting respect for and the
protection of human dignity - which is God-given - as a
fundamental element of our Christian faith and witness. The
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe and the Lutheran
Development Service, which invited and hosted the LWF team of
communicators, have the same standpoint. I know that you are aware
of this, because of the presence and activities of the Lutheran
church in your own constituency.

We work in Zimbabwe and elsewhere with people in need without
taking into consideration their personal, political or religious
affiliations. As you must also be aware, the LWF has been engaged
in Zimbabwe since 1980 in community development, educational and
health programs, without applying any form of discrimination in
relation to the individuals and communities we assist. In this
task, we have cooperated with - and hitherto received cooperation
from - the Government of Zimbabwe, together with other credible
partners in the country.

I wish specifically to complain about the treatment which the
members of the LWF team of communicators received. Although each
one of them recorded a statement with the Zvishavane police under
the impression that they would be charged in court, no charges
were ultimately brought against them. And although it appears that
it was announced in advance that they would be deported, they were
not in fact deported; their permission to visit Zimbabwe was
merely canceled. This is confirmed by the wording of the formal
notice issued to the team members early in the morning of January
29 upon arrival at the Harare airport.

Despite these facts, I have been told by the team members that
they were subjected to verbal threats of imprisonment by the
investigating officers from Gweru, before the investigation had
even been completed. They drove back to Harare under heavy police
escort. On their arrival there prior to leaving the country they
were given the choice of either staying in a police detention cell
or proceeding to the airport, though it was then almost midnight
and their onward flights were not scheduled until 12.30 p.m. the
following day. They were not permitted to stay in a hotel. Their
lawyer was also denied access to them in the airport. I cannot
understand or accept this treatment, especially when all charges
against them had been dropped and when they had in any event the
inalienable right to access to their legal representative.

I reiterate that the LWF sent this team in good faith, fully aware
of the political difficulties in Zimbabwe and between the
Government of Zimbabwe and other governments, but in view of the
pressing need to strengthen international support for humanitarian
action in the context of the drought and the continuing HIV/AIDS
pandemic which afflict Zimbabwe and the region. It is precisely
because of our non-partisan humanitarian objectives that we
undertook this visit to Zimbabwe at a time when travel advisories
and bans have been issued against travel to Zimbabwe. Through this
visitation program, we sought to secure further financial
assistance for relief programs in the region. You will understand
that the events that transpired in Zimbabwe will considerably
reduce the prospects of support being committed to enable us to
contribute meaningfully to the struggle against these humanitarian
disasters in Zimbabwe. In addition, the authorities' actions in
this matter have undoubtedly further tarnished Zimbabwe's image

I am deeply disturbed by the suspicion, discourtesy and
threatening behavior by the police towards this team of
communicators, whose purpose was to promote support for
humanitarian relief efforts in the southern African region.

Mr Minister, I now have the difficult task of communicating and
explaining the events of 24-28 January 2003 to the Lutheran World
Federation's worldwide constituency of 136 member churches
representing approximately 62 million people in over 70 countries.
This matter has already raised a considerable amount of publicity
within our constituency and beyond. I still hope and expect, given
the circumstances of this matter, that the Government of Zimbabwe
will offer the written explanation and apology that is so
obviously required.

Yours respectfully,

Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko
General Secretary

(The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the
Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund (Sweden), the LWF now
has 136 member churches in 76 countries representing over 61.7
million of the 65.4 million Lutherans worldwide. The LWF acts on
behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as
ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human
rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and
development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva,

[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is LWF's information service.
Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent
positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where
the dateline of an article contains the notation (LWI), the
material may be freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]

*	*	*
PO Box 2100, CH-1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland
English Editor: Pauline Mumia
Tel: (41.22) 791.63.54
Fax: (41.22) 791.66.30

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home