Barry Bearak ’71 was jailed Thursday through Monday in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, while reporting for The New York Times. He was originally charged with working as a journalist without accreditation, but it has been changed to falsely presenting himself as a journalist, according to the Times. The Knox alumnus and Pulitzer Prize winner is scheduled to receive an honorary degree of Doctorate of Humane Letters at Commencement this year. He was taken to a clinic Monday for injuries to his back after a seven-foot fall from his concrete bunk in the crowded dark cell, the Times reported.
Bearak has been reporting on the recent elections in Zimbabwe and the suspected defeat of Robert Mugabe in the presidential race. Mugabe’s party ZANU-PF has lost control of Zimbabwe’s parliament, and unofficial tallies of the presidential race give Morgan Tsvangirai a victory with 50.3 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff election. Mugabe has been in power for 28 years, and his government has not yet released the official results of the March 29 vote, citing “errors” in the tally and demanding a recount.
The most recent article written by Bearak, dated April 3, talks about the Parliamentary losses and includes an interview with “a businessman with close connections to the [ZANU-PF] party hierarchy, speaking on condition of anonymity.” The businessman said top party members and members of Mugabe’s cabinet urged Mugabe to request a runoff election where “the party would employ tactics of intimidation and bloodshed.”
“Barry is doing the serious kind of journalism that needs to get done today,” said Bob Jamieson, former television news correspondent for ABC and NBC who received an honorary doctorate from Knox in 1996. He attended Knox in the early 1960s and is now a member of the Board of Trustees. “His reputation is that he is one of the best reporters of his generation.”
Jamieson said Mugabe’s agenda is to keep the truth about his regime from the world and the people of Zimbabwe, and it is people like Bearak who tell the truth, even in the face of danger. Jamieson, who has an extensive history of foreign correspondence, talked about the mindset of a journalist in a dangerous situation.
“You’ve got to think about [the danger], but you also have to go ahead and do your job,” he said. He said the world is particularly dangerous for journalists today, citing the nearly fatal head wound colleague Bob Woodruff received from a roadside bomb while reporting in Iraq in 2006. “Vietnam does not seem very dangerous today,” he said.