BOB GARFIELD: When Andrew Meldrum got his posting to Zimbabwe several years ago he thought he would be writing uplifting stories about the journey of an ex-English protectorate to full independence, but led by President Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has falling into a deepening crisis. With the economy faltering, Mugabe has been scapegoating anyone and everyone. Now with the most draconian anti-press bill to date awaiting his signature, it's the journalists turn to bear the brunt of his anger and accusations. Andrew Meldrum is the Zimbabwe correspondent for the Guardian newspaper and The Economist magazine. He joins us from Harare. Andrew, welcome to the show.
ANDREW MELDRUM: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: You are now on the official list of journalists accused by the Zimbabwean government of terrorism. So-- exactly what terrorist acts have you committed?
ANDREW MELDRUM: Well the reason that they've put me on this list is because I've written about the struggle for the Zimbabwean people for multi-party democracy; also corruption in the economy and-- you know, generally an unaccountable government.
BOB GARFIELD: Branding someone a terrorist would seem to invite maybe vigilantism. Are, are you in any physical danger?
ANDREW MELDRUM:Yes, there is physical danger, particularly as Robert Mugabe has vigilante groups, the war veterans and the central intelligence organization that have attacked anybody that is identified as a, as an enemy of the government. So it's, it's not a pleasant situation, really.
BOB GARFIELD:It's easy for me to sit here and scoff at the preposterousness of the rhetorical inflation by calling a journalist a terrorist, but how about Zimbabweans? Is anyone there, ordinary Zimbabweans, buying this or, or do they see this as Mugabe doing what Mugabe does?
ANDREW MELDRUM: It's very much seen as Mugabe doing what Mugabe does. The state propaganda has become so shrill and so antagonistic and aggressive that people just turn it off and stop listening to it, and they say they just believe the opposite.
BOB GARFIELD:The radicalization of Robert Mugabe seems to very easy tracking, you know, a completely parallel track with the disintegration of Zimbabwe's economy. There are certain echoes of Weimar, Germany here and scapegoating -- or aren't there?
ANDREW MELDRUM: Yes. Oh, there, there are many. You know, one is the scapegoating and blaming white farmers, blaming the white population in general, blaming gays. You know, there are many different minority groups that Robert Mugabe has tried to blame for his problems. The other thing that's very similar is the way he has twisted and manipulated the rule of law, taking over the courts; illegally firing judges and appointing new ones who are his followers; the use of state-sponsored violence and then not allowing the police to do anything about it; the misuse of the police to hound legal opposition parties; the - you know, there, there are many things that are similar to what-- the way the Nazis came into power in fact.
BOB GARFIELD:Zimbabwean journalists have been treated like the enemy for some time now. Do you think that this latest move by the government against foreign press is going to have a chilling effect or the opposite on the journalistic community in Harare?
ANDREW MELDRUM: Well, I think it will. And, and remember it -the acts that he's taking against journalism, in, in addition to branding a group of us as terrorists, his government has also prepared a bill that they have published and that they are about to submit to Parliament which is to control the press, and press experts say that it's one of the most repressive press laws in the world. And it's not just the foreign press; it's the local press. And for more than a year brave Zimbabwean journalists who have criticized the government have been beaten; two have been tortured. A huge bomb blast destroyed the printing press of the main independent daily newspaper. You know, so this is part of a widespread campaign that the government is doing because they want to silence the critical press before the presidential elections in March next year.
BOB GARFIELD:On these shores at least, Mugabe has run his increasingly repressive regime without a whole lot of notice, even when as you mentioned before he was inciting citizens to violently seize farms and other land of white property owners. Is it possible that this latest act of repression, this branding of journalists as terrorists will backfire on him and just call more attention in the West to, you know, what has become a de factor dictatorship and to the economic desperation of the country?
ANDREW MELDRUM: It looks like there's going to be a confrontation. It looks like the government is going to try to silence the press, and yes, I think it's going to have a negative effect internationally but also I think it's going to have a negative effect locally, because are just going to be even that much more mad and determined to vote against Mr. Mugabe.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Andrew Meldrum, thank you very much, and-- be careful.
ANDREW MELDRUM: Thanks.
BOB GARFIELD:Andrew Meldrum is the Zimbabwe correspondent for The Economist magazine and the newspaper The Guardian. He spoke to us from Harare, Zimbabwe. [MUSIC]