I tried unsuccessfully to convince him that everyone has a right to speak but sobered fast enough when he observed that, “of course you can speak but “they” will arrest you just because “they” have the power to do so”. This fear of speaking out has been instilled by the myriad arrests, threats and general harassment of media workers. A case in point was the arrest of three officers from the Media Monitoring Project, Fadzai December, Molly Chimhanda and Gilbert Mabusa. An ordinary Zimbabwean, Vikas Mavhudzi, was arrested recently for posting a comment on the Prime Minister’s Facebook’ wall.Despite the majority of charges against the MMPZ trio being dropped and Mavhudzi’s case being thrown out of court, the message was clear: you speak, you get arrested.
Article 20 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution explicitly permits freedom of speech. We must claim our right not just to hold an opinion but to express that opinion. Any laws that impinge on this right should be nullified. It is almost impossible to say this without reference to the Zanu (PF) conference in December, that resolved to “call upon the Government to put in place a regulatory framework that will ensure a balance between media industry interests, protection of privacy, concerns of the public, concerns of individual citizens as well as national security”.
One wonders what laws are going to be brewed next that will criminalize the right to speak, over and above laws that are already used to arrest individuals who dare to speak. The plethora of media laws have been proven to be undemocratic and in need of extensive reform or outright repeal as they criminalize the right to speak and fall short of international principles that guarantee freedom of expression.