ZLHR statement on World Press Day

On World Press Freedom Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) urges the government to take tangible steps to respect media freedom as well as the right to freedom of expression.

As the world marks World Press Freedom Day, which is commemorated on 3 May 2017, ZLHR is saddened that journalists and ordinary citizens continue to face daunting challenges and acute dangers including arbitrary harassment, intimidation, assault, arrest and prosecution for simply discharging their professional duties, or expressing their views through the mainstream and social media channels.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day which is commemorated under the theme “Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies” is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, evaluates the state of press freedom, defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to media practitioners who continue to confront many hurdles in the line of duty.

It is imperative to note that freedom of expression is central to an open and democratic state in which people access diverse information to help them participate and make choices about governance, social and economic issues.

It is also pertinent to recognise that a key measure of a country’s levels of freedom, democracy and rule of law is the manner in which a government treats journalists and how free they are allowed to do their professional work.

While the new Constitution has broadened freedom of expression and of the media and access to information, the reality on the ground is at odds with this owing to a plethora of transgressions committed by the government and both state and non-state actors which stifle media freedom.

Sadly, hostile provisions of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), the Interception of Communications Act, the Broadcasting Services Act and the Official Secrets Act continue to exist stifling free expression and opinion.

It is imperative that the government appreciates the need to respect and uphold constitutional provisions which provides the framework of protections, obligations, rights and fundamental freedoms accorded all persons in Zimbabwe, especially media freedom.

In conclusion, ZLHR urges the government to:

Urgently remove restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information pending harmonisation of obnoxious laws among them the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) with the Constitution.

Appreciate that delays in alignment of legislation which is not in line with the contents of the Constitution is increasingly contributing to the continued disregard of constitutional provisions by certain arms of government and their officials.

Liberalise the airwaves and licence community radio stations.

Return to self-regulation of the media and remove the requirement for registration and accreditation by media houses and media practitioners respectively by the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

Ascertain the whereabouts of missing freelance journalist and human rights defenders among them Itai Dzamara, Paul Chizuze and Patrick Nabanyama.

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