Harare - Police in Zimbabwe say they are looking for a local journalist who verified fake President Robert Mugabe quotes to a New York Times writer, press reports said on Sunday.
In a threat that will emphasise the strained relationship between Mugabe's government and the press, spokesperson Charity Charamba reportedly said: "The law will certainly take its course on the culprits."
Charamba's quotes were carried by both the official Sunday Mail and The Standard newspapers.
New York Times writer Jeffrey Gettleman has apologised after including quotes attributed to Mugabe in a story on Kenyan corruption earlier this month.
The quotes - which turned out to be false - were lifted from a story published on spectator.co.ke, a satirical website in Kenya. They were widely shared on social media, prompting furious responses from many Kenyans who attacked Zimbabwe's 91-year-old president online.
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The Chronicle newspaper on Friday published what it said was an excerpt from an emailed letter to the Zimbabwean president's office in which Gettleman said he had run the quotes past a journalist in Harare.
"It was only after the story was published that I learned that the journalist had not checked with your office or other appropriate sources," the excerpt reads.
"Police are eager to identify the local journalist who worked with Jeffrey Gettleman in the false story," Charamba was quoted as saying in the Sunday Mail. Publishing falsehoods is an offence which can carry a fine or a jail sentence of up to 20 years upon conviction.
Media freedoms in Zimbabwe are in the spotlight after three reporters were arrested two weeks ago over a story alleging top police involvement in elephant poisoning. Unusually the reporters were from the state-run press.
Freelance journalist Andrison Manyere was also briefly detained in Harare this week while covering an anti-government protest.
The tough Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act was passed into law in 2002 and is largely seen to be protective of Mugabe and his government.
Watchdog @ZimMediaReview tweeted Sunday: "Police 'hunt' for Zim journalist who allegedly helped NYT reporter on fake Mugabe-Kenya story. Ridiculous."