Practicing journalism in Zimbabwe has become a crime punishable by death.
Last year, my colleague Edward Chikomba learned this the hard way. I still can't believe he's gone -- the jovial spirit, the burly tummy, the camera bag he always wore slung backward over his shoulder. He worked for the country's only TV station, the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
Whenever I met up with him, he would complain that his videos were always edited by government officials and that his wages were pathetic. "I have to feed my children," he often said. To make ends meet, he had begun to shoot extra footage to sell to foreign networks abroad.
In March 2007, Edward finally got a scoop. He captured footage of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai after he was beaten in police custody for attempting to lead a march protesting Mugabe's rule. The story made a big impact. After the video was beamed over satellite TV channels around the world, Mugabe was summoned by a group of African heads of state to explain the treatment of Tsvangirai. Mugabe had always denied that the police were torturing opposition members. Edward's footage angered and embarrassed the government.
Afterward, Edward told me jokingly that he had the feeling someone was following him. But I knew him better. Behind his infectious laugh I sensed he was hiding a cold fear. He also said he got a note at home telling him, "You will pay for Tsvangirai." He brushed it aside.