Zimbabwe: police question church aid workers

 Five foreigners questioned by Zimbabwean police because they were suspected of being journalists, are Lutheran aid workers, Western diplomats said on Sunday. Zimbabwe police said they were questioning five 'journalists' from Kenya, Finland, the United States and Germany and could charge them under Zimbabwe's tough media and security laws. Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said: "Our laws say foreign journalists must apply to come into the country, and these journalists also have some interesting documents suggesting they could be on some clandestine mission." But diplomatic sources said the five were not professional journalists and had not disguised their mission. The police said they were being questioned as free people from their hotel but observers claim they are effectively under detention. "Whatever misunderstanding there is, the information we have so far is that they are not free to move from the hotel," one diplomat said. "We are making representations to the Zimbabwean authorities to find out what is going on but our information is that these people are not professional journalists, but church workers looking at development projects for church magazines," said the diplomat, who declined to be named. One of the five, American Kathleen Kastilahn, told reporters by telephone from Zvishavane that the five were met by Zimbabwe police on Friday night when they arrived at their Zvishavane hotel. "The five of us are here to look at various projects being carried out by the World Lutheran Federation Development Services in agriculture, food aid, water and so on and to write reports for the church magazine and for a forthcoming international conference called Healing the World," she said. "Our mission was very open. Those of us who had to apply for visas did so, and there was no attempt to hide what we will be doing here. But obviously they are not treating us as church workers. They have confiscated our passports, they are not allowing us to move or even to exercise," she added. She said other foreigners being held with her are Pauline Mumia from Kenya, Rolf Hallstrom from Finland and Ute Heers and Falk Orth, both from Germany. Fanuel Jongwe, a journalist with the Zimbabwe Daily News, said by telephone from Zvishavane he had been invited by the World Lutheran Federation to see the organisation's development projects in Zimbabwe's Midlands province. "We are actually surprised with what is happening because there is nothing sinister at all about the trip. But the police are holding us here saying they are investigating us under POSA (the Public Order and Security Act)," he said.

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