Zim journalists bear the brunt of police brutality

Journalism in Zimbabwe is not for the faint hearted, especially for those not intent on toeing the line of an intolerant regime.

Source: Zim journalists bear the brunt of police brutality – The Standard September 4, 2016

President Robert Mugabe has gained notoriety for targeting journalists when his back is against the wall and the ongoing clampdown against those protesting his rule has proven that old habits die hard.

Journalists from the private media and freelancers have been viciously attacked by riot police and routinely arrested while covering demonstrations, despite proof that they would be on official duty.

Since the outbreak of protests in early July, Richard Chidza, Elias Mambo, Tafadzwa Ufumeli, Paidamoyo Muzulu, Obey Manayiti and Albert Masaka from Alpha Media Holdings, have fallen victim to overzealous police while in the line of duty.

Freelance journalists Tendai Musiya and Lucy Yasini were bludgeoned with batons several times by riot police despite the fact that they could clearly be identified as broadcasters as their cameras and recorders as well as press cards were visible.

Other freelance journalists who also fell victim to police brutality and arbitrary arrests include James Jemwa, Robert Tapfumaneyi, Tendai Mandimika, Godwin Mangudya and Crispen Ndlovu.

Jemwa, arrested during the August 26 bloody clashes in Harare, was on Friday granted bail while Muzulu has since been removed from remand after he was arrested while covering the Occupy Unity Africa Square protests against Mugabe.

Mandimika, also arrested on August 26, remains in remand prison awaiting the hearing of his bail application along with a group of other citizens arrested in the melee that became the demonstrations last week.

Ndlovu, who was released on bail after spending two nights in police custody, following his arrest during a protest by the Bulawayo Youth Arise (Buya) pressure group said he still suffered from blackouts.

“I was covering the Buya demonstration at the Bulawayo City Hall car park when the police violently blockaded the march and arrested two people,” he said after he was released on free bail on Friday.

“Two police officers in riot approached me as I took pictures of the event and they threw me into their car with those who had been arrested,” Ndlovu added.

“One of them ordered that I should be restrained claiming that I wanted to jump off the car and they reacted by throwing me onto the floor before hitting me on the head several times.

“Another police officer stepped on my neck and they continued with the beatings until they parked their car at the Bulawayo Central Police Station courtyard.

Ndlovu said he was taken to the police’s Law and Order Section where he produced his Zimbabwe Media Commission accreditation card to prove that he was a journalist carrying out his duties.

“They refused to listen to me,” he said. “After I saw that they were intent on detaining me, I asked for water and medical treatment but they did not listen.

“I started having blackouts in the cells at night until I collapsed. “Abameli Human Rights Lawyers Network had to intervene and I was taken to hospital.”

Before his release Ndlovu was charged with being a “criminal nuisance” and will appear in court on September 23.

Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s ex-advisor Alex Magaisa said Mugabe’s government will try everything possible to constrict critical media, which it views as the bulwark of the people’s fight against its rule.
“That’s typical of Zanu PF to violate and suppress journalists,” he said.

“This is how the repressive state operates. It targets the key points of enlightenment and tries to shut them down.
“I’m not surprised that they have been targeting journalists.”

Media Institute of Southern Africa (Zimbabwe) director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the government should stop treating journalists as enemies.

“Clearly what has been happening underlines the police and in particular their bosses’ mentality towards media freedom,” he said.

“Any pretence that the journalists who have been arrested, harassed or brutalised were part of the protests is unbelievable because in most, if not all cases, the media practitioners have identified themselves as registered under an unfair law but have still been bundled up with those holding demonstrations.”

Ngwenya said it was important for police and the State as well as its actors and agents to understand how the media works.

“Just like the police who respond to events at any given time, journalists by the nature of their duty, also respond to these to document information, not only for the benefit of their audiences but policy-makers,” he said.
“Governments are better informed of what citizens think of them through the media.

“Authorities must also understand that journalism is not a crime and journalists are in no way a threat to national security and sovereignty as has been alleged against protesters”.

Ngwenya said his organisation and other media lobby groups have been holding discussions with authorities regarding the safety of journalists but impressed upon government and its agents to view journalism as a necessity for the growth of Zimbabwe’s democracy.

“We have had discussions and continue to engage those in power but it is important that we not only need to entrench a culture of constitutionalism but also enact laws in accordance with the Constitution,” he said.

“It is also important that authorities understand the need for attitude change and accept journalism as a constitutional craft that is necessary in a democratic society.”

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) condemned the State’s heavy-handedness in dealing with journalists, saying scribes had a constitutional right to a safe working environment.

“These concerns arise from the continuing and escalating arrests, assaults, intimidation and harassment of journalists by police, while in the line of duty,” the lobby group said.

“The VMCZ is mindful of the prevailing unrest in the country and the role the security forces have to play in maintaining law and order in the country.

“However, the VMCZ reminds the police of the constitutional rights of journalists in carrying out their duties to inform the public of developments in the country and, therefore, urges police and all members of society to allow journalists to freely execute their duties without hindrance.”

Mugabe’s heavy handed treatment of journalists first came under serious scrutiny in 1999 when the army arrested the late Mark Chavunduka, the then editor of The Standard and reporter Ray Choto.

The two were arrested for writing about an alleged coup and were severely tortured for several days despite court orders for their release.

Several journalists have been arrested for writing stories critical of the government and Zimbabwe is ranked lowly on the world press freedom index.

Since the outbreak of the protestors senior government officials, including Information minister Chris Mushohwe, have warned journalists against writing stories critical of Mugabe and his family.