ON THE RECORD
An old diplomatic joke says that ambassadors think twice before saying nothing, but sometimes even a bland statement gets headlines.
U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray in the political hotbed of Zimbabwe was trying to avoid a direct comment on a court case involving the conviction of six opponents of authoritarian President Robert Mugabe.
“Not specifically commenting on a particular case, having a judiciary system which is equitably applied to all citizens is healthy for democracy and development and vice versa,” he said in a weekend interview with Radio VOP in the capital, Harare.
That sounded like a safe, noncommittal comment.
However, Radio VOP — the initials stand for “Voice of the People” — splashed his words on its website with the headline: “U.S. Ambassador Condemns Selective Application of Law.”
The Zimbabwean courts are widely seen as biased toward Mr. Mugabe, and the convictions appeared to be another case of judicial partisanship, Radio VOP reported.
The courts last week imposed fines of $500 and 420 hours of community service on the defendants, who include Munyaradzi Gwisai, a member of the Zimbabwean legislature from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
Their crime was watching a video of Arab Spring protests.