ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins all supporters of media freedom in commemorating World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2015.

World Press Freedom Day, which is being commemorated under the theme: “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety In The Digital Age” is an opportunity to assess the state of media freedom, celebrate the fundamental principles of media freedom, defend the media from attacks on their independence and pay tribute to journalists who labour frequently to enhance access to information.

While other media practitioners and global citizens celebrate the strides made in their countries towards attaining and enjoying media freedom, it is lamentable that Zimbabwean journalists and ordinary citizens have little to cheer as they continue to suffer persecution by the State and non-State actors, who routinely use a raft of legislation to charge them and suppress criticism.

It is distressing to note that in Zimbabwe, World Press Freedom Day is being marked at a time when freelance journalist and pro-democracy activist Itai Dzamara’s whereabouts are unknown. Dzamara, who disappeared on 9 March 2015, has been missing for close to two months now. It is quite clear that those who abducted Dzamara are people who are less willing to tolerate dissent. How can democracy thrive when citizens such as Dzamara can just be disappeared in broad daylight and remain unaccounted for.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police continues to trample on journalists rights through subjecting them to arrests on flimsy charges and assaulting them for merely exercising their professional duties such as what happened to Angela Jimu and Tapiwa Zivira in recent months together with Privilege Musvanhiri, who was assaulted by Harare City Council personnel.

We find it strange and questionable that the police continue to arrest and persecute citizens for allegedly violating insult laws even though the Constitutional Court has already made judicial pronouncements against abuse of such laws and even warned State prosecutors against bringing flimsy cases to court.

ZLHR is perturbed that Zimbabwean authorities continue to defend and rely on some antiquated weapons such as defamation laws which is provided for in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act that have no place in a modern democracy to muzzle free speech. It is pertinent to appreciate that criminal defamation is not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society and is inconsistent with freedom of expression which is guaranteed in the Constitution.

The harmful and undesirable consequences of criminalising defamation considered with the chilling possibilities of arrest, detention and imprisonment are manifestly excessive in their effect. Besides, there is an appropriate and satisfactory alternative civil remedy that is available to combat the mischief of defamation, hence it is not necessary to criminalise defamatory statements. Moreover, there exist enough remedies such as the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, a body which can resolve any complaints without instituting uncalled for criminal charges against media practitioners.

The failure by the government to bring a Bill repealing the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act or one that does away with the provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act which violate the Constitution has proven its insincerity to implement media reforms.

It is regrettable that some newspapers and electronic media continue to be used to further partisan political agendas and to attack some perceived enemies and human rights defenders with continued impunity at the expense of providing accurate, balanced, fair and ethical news and information, whilst worrying allegations of corruption and other vices are yet to be properly interrogated.

The government has the obligation to ensure that journalists and ordinary citizens have the right to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of expression without fear of being abducted.

In addition, the government has the responsibility of bringing to justice those responsible for any abuses including enforced disappearances. It is high time that the government takes this responsibility seriously of guaranteeing safety and protection of its citizens.

Therefore, ZLHR calls upon the government to;

(a) take all necessary and urgent measures to ascertain the whereabouts of Dzamara and fully investigate the circumstances surrounding his abduction and ensure that those responsible for the enforced disappearance are brought to account.

(b) Align all media laws with the new Constitution and repeal the portfolio of all laws that are being used to systematically intimidate and harass journalists and other ordinary citizens.

Post published in: Human Rights

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