Deteriorating Press Freedom Situation in Zimbabwe, Mnangagwa’s Government Has a Duty to Protect Journalists

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) joins it member, the Media Institute of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA Zimbabwe) to denounce the recent violations perpetrated against journalists working in the country.

AFEX has received reports of journalists being abused by state and non-state actors in their line of duty. In the most recent and worrying incident, unidentified armed men on August 21, 2019 at about 10pm raided the home of Samantha Kureya, a female comedian and political satirist working with the Bustop Television Station and assaulted her as well as some members of her family including minors. The unruly gunmen then abducted Kureya from her residence in Mufakose to an unknown location where she was severely beaten amidst reports of torture before being dumped at Crowborough, a suburb of Harare.

According to media report, Kureya, popularly known as Gonyeti has since gone into hiding after going through such an inhumane experience.  

It was also reported that Kureya’s colleague, Sharon Chideu (Magi) also narrowly escaped abduction in the early hours of Thursday morning (August 22) after she had been warned to move to safety. Gunmen reportedly stormed her home after she had already gone into hiding.

According to MISA Zimbabwe, it will be recalled that police arrested and detained Kureya together with another colleague from the Bustop TV station following the publication of a satirical skit in 2016 which the police claimed amounted to ‘public nuisance.’ It was also reported that the police warned the two journalists about their satirical skits adding that they were becoming too political.

In addition to the above violations, agents of Zimbabwe’s police on August 23, 2019 arrested Leopold Munhende, a journalist working with online news partal, NewZimbabwe.Com at the New Government Complex in Harare while he was covering a demonstration by members of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ).

According to his colleague, Costa Nkomo, they were filming the demonstrations when the police approached Munhende. Nkomo added that the police still bundled Munhende into their vehicle despite the fact that he had shown them his accreditation card as a journalist.

In similar but separate incident, officers from Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) anti-riot division on August 16, 2019 assaulted Talkmore Fani Mapfumo, a local journalist with online publication, Zim Morning Post. Mapfumo was filming police officers who were dispersing protestors in the Central Business District (CBD).

In a video clip, taken by another jpurnalist who was present at the scene, uniformed police officers were manhandling Mapfumo and asking him to stop filming. The journalist produced his accreditation card but this did not stop the officers from assaulting him as they took turns to beat him up with their batons.

One of the officers is recorded shouting, “…being a journalist will not spare you from beatings”. The assaults only stopped when Mapfumo broke loose and ran for his life.

AFEX expresses serious concerns about these wanton attacks against journalists working in Zimbabwe as they contribute to further worsening the already deteriorating press freedom environment in the country. We urge the authorities in Zimbabwe as well as the police to swiftly investigate the reported cases of assaults against the journalists in question while ensuring that concrete steps are adopted to promote the safety conditions under which journalists work in the country.

The increasing report of impunity for crimes targeting journalists is likely to result in increased attacks against them which is dangerous for the growth of the country’s democracy. These attacks also have the potential to silence the Zimbabwean populace to refrain from commenting on issues that affect them in the country.

The Zimbabwean government has an obligation to protect and ensure the safety and security of its citizens at all times. AFEX appeals to President Mnangagwa to take urgent steps to put an end to the incidents of violations against journalists by adopting steps to protect journalists working in the country.