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A Zimbabwe journalist who was tortured for speaking out against his country’s government was recognized by the University yesterday for his ethics in journalism.
Mark G. Chavunduka, who vocally advocated the freedom of the press and his opposition to President Robert Mugabe’s government, was selected by Harvard University’s Nieman Fellows to receive this year’s Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.
Chavunduka died last November at the age of 37, following a long illness.
“He was a hero of journalism for the risks he took and the consequences he suffered as a result,” said Bill Krueger, a reporter for the Raleigh News and Observer who served as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with Chavunduka.
Chavunduka rose to prominence in the sub-Saharan African media when at the age of 24 he took over as editor of Parade, Zimbabwe’s largest news magazine, becoming the youngest editor of a national publication in Zimbabwe.
In 1997, he founded and edited the country’s independent weekly newspaper, The Zimbabwe Standard, which became a popular alternative to the country’s government-owned weekly newspapers.
The privately owned publication became a forum for criticism of Mugabe’s government. In January 1999, Chavunduka and Ray Choto, the chief reporter at The Standard, were arrested and brutally tortured after the newspaper published a story reporting an alleged military coup against Mugabe.
Chavunduka and Choto were beaten, subjected to electric shock all over their bodies, and subjected to other forms of torture.
After multiple court orders for the journalists’ release and demands for their freedom from international groups, including Harvard’s Nieman Fellows, Chavunduka and Choto were eventually released on bail and charged with “publishing a false story capable of causing alarm and despondency.”
In 2000, Chavunduka won a Nieman Fellowship, a year-long appointment for mid-career journalists to study at Harvard.
“Mark taught us a lot about journalism. Obviously he had to practice journalism under much harsher conditions than we have to in the U.S.,” Krueger said. “He was trying to put good stories in the paper about what the government was doing.”
The $1,000 honorarium that the Lyons Award carries will be split between Chavunduka’s children and the Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), which campaigns for press freedom in Zimbabwe.
—Staff writer Stephanie M. Skier can be reached at email@example.com.
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