Police harassment and detention of journalists unacceptable

The ongoing police onslaught that has seen several journalists being assaulted and arrested by the police in the wake of the nationwide protests and demonstrations is of great concern to MISA-Zimbabwe.

IMG-20160827-WA0000These unlawful actions by the police pose great risk to the lives and limbs of journalists conducting their lawful and constitutionally protected responsibility to report events as they unfold. This is despite several appeals by MISA-Zimbabwe and other media organisations urging the police to uphold journalists’ right to media freedom as provided for by the Constitution.

These appeals have undoubtedly fallen on deaf ears further denting Zimbabwe’s commitment to constitutional democracy as espoused in the country’s Bill of Rights as police clampdown on the protests with an increasing number of journalists being caught in the crossfire.

And as feared, freelance photojournalist Crispen Ndlovu was on 1 September 2016 admitted at a private hospital in Bulawayo after he was reportedly assaulted by members of the riot police.

According to his lawyers Abameli Human Rights Lawyers working in collaboration with MISA-Zimbabwe, Ndlovu who was in police custody after being charged with criminal nuisance, had complained of severe headaches, impaired vision and dizziness.

“We had to carry him into the car as we took him to hospital as he could hardly walk on his own,” said lawyer Tineyi Mukweva.

The doctors attending to Ndlovu had to admit him to enable them to conduct scans that would assist in determining the severity of the injuries to his swollen head.

According to media reports, Ndlovu was arrested for taking pictures of the police as they allegedly assaulted Alfred Dzirutwe, spokesperson  of the Bulawayo Youths Arise  during protests against President Robert Mugabe’s leadership and rising unemployment.

In the meantime, photojournalist James Jemwa, on 2 September 2016 clocked almost a week in custody at Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare. Jemwa who was arrested on 26 August 2016 while covering demonstrations in Harare, had been in custody with another journalist Tendai Mandimika before being granted bail on 2 September 2016.

Other cases involve the arrest and detention of NewsDay journalist Paidamoyo Muzulu in June together with 15 activists who were conducting a protest vigil in Africa Unity Square in Harare. The charge against Muzulu and his co-accused whose bail was paid by MISA-Zimbabwe – robbery or obstructing or defeating the course of justice.

In June five journalists Garikai Chaunza, Edgar Gweshe, Chris Mahove, James Jemwa, Khumbulani Zamchiya were arrested and detained for six hours at Harare Central Police Station. They were later released without charges. They were arrested while covering a demonstration against Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s stay at the Rainbow Towers.

On 6 July 2016, Alpha Media Holdings journalists Elias Mambo, Tafadzwa Ufumeli, Richard Chidza and freelance journalist Godwin Mangudya were briefly detained at Marimba Police Station while covering protests in Mufakose.

Journalists Lawrence Chimunhu, Haru Mutasa, Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, Christopher Mahove, Tendai Musiya, Bridget Mananavire and Imelda Mhetu on 3 August 2016 were also assaulted by members of the riot police.

Freelance journalist Lucy Yasin also fell victim to baton wielding police on 24 August 2016, the same day the police arrested journalist Tendai Mandimika. Journalists Obey Manayiti and Robert Tapfumaneyi were also briefly detained by the police in Harare on 25 August 2016. The following day freelance photojournalist James Jemwa was arrested and detained by the police while covering demonstrations in Harare’s central business district.

It would appear the police’s anger and hostility against journalists, more-so photojournalists, arises from their fear of publication of images that capture their excesses and heavy handedness in dealing with demonstrators or protestors under the guise of maintaining law and order.

In as much as the police have the right to maintain peace and order as well as preventing violence and the destruction of properties during demonstrations, journalists also have the right to capture and report on those events as they occur.

The escalation in cases involving the unlawful arrests and assault of journalists, is an issue that cannot be allowed to deteriorate, but one that needs to be urgently addressed as it has serious ramifications on Zimbabwe’s respect for its very own constitutionally guaranteed rights.

This is a matter that goes beyond the issuance of statements and assurances by the responsible authorities that journalists have the right to conduct their professional duties without hindrance from any quarter.

Practical steps should be taken to halt these violations of media freedom which has seen a total of 31 journalists, since January this year,  being harassed, assaulted, arrested or detained by state security agents, mainly the police, while on duty as if journalism is a crime. Bizarrely, the cases in question involve journalists who are duly accredited with the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

Brandishing of their accreditation cards has not spared the journalists from the police’s wanton abuse of their position.

As has been the case over the years, MISA-Zimbabwe through its Media Defence Fund and working in conjunction with its Medial Lawyers Network, came to the rescue of some of the journalists by offering legal representation as well as securing the safety of those being intimidated by suspected state security agents. Notable cases involve journalists John Cassim and Richard Chidza.

The organisation has also mounted court challenges to force the police to release confiscated cameras and recorders belonging to journalists Tony Manyangadze and Kudakwashe Mahove respectively. Where journalists sustain injuries during the course of their duties, MISA-Zimbabwe has assisted through the payment of their medical bills and other forms of support.

The organisation has also provided food to those arrested and assisted relatives of incarcerated journalists with transport fares to enable them to visit detained scribes.

We therefore urge journalists to be pro-active and be on the forefront of defending their democratic space through reportage of media violations as well as speedily alerting MISA-Zimbabwe in the event of arrests, assaults or unlawful detention during the course of their work.

That as it maybe and for the avoidance of any doubt, the right of journalists to conduct their lawful professional duties is protected by Section 61 of the Constitution which provides for freedom of expression and freedom of the media.

Our message to the police is: Journalism is not a Crime!

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