Dumisani Muleya, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent and chief reporter, Owen Gagare, were on Tuesday, 7 May 2013 arrested and charged with publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state. They were later released by police.
Muleya and Gagare, together with Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) company secretary Nqobile Ndlovu, were charged under Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The offence carries a fine of up to or exceeding Level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both.
In Zimbabwe, a Level 14 fine means the offence is deemed serious. It is not immediately clear what the maximum fine would be in this case.
Speaking after their seven-hour detention at Harare Central Police Station, Muleya said this was one of the typical cases involving the harassment and intimidation of journalists which is rampant in Zimbabwe.
“This is a clear abuse of state machinery and an act of systematic harassment and intimidation of journalists who are merely doing their job. This has always been a common feature of Zimbabwe under President Robert Mugabe and his Orwellian Zanu-PF regime since they came to power in 1980,” he said.
Zanu-PF is the political party to which president Robert Mugabe belongs.
“This uncalled for move is calculated to muzzle the media, in this case ourselves, to scare us away (sic) from writing about such major issues of overwhelming public interest , especially security sector reform , ahead of general elections. But one really wonders why authoritarian regimes like the one in Zimbabwe still think they can successfully suppress the media in this digital and social media age,” Muleya added.
The Zimbabwe Chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) is greatly concerned with the continuous harassment and intimidation of journalists by state security agents only a few days after the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May.
We condemn these actions in the strongest of terms as they are designed to instill fear and hinder journalists from conducting their lawful professional duties of informing the nation on socio-economic and political developments that affect their daily lives.
We thus reiterate our demand for the repealing or amending of repressive legislation such as the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which have no place in a democratic society. The arrests make a very strong case for urgent media legislative reforms, more so in the context of the envisaged new constitution which will, for the first time, explicitly guarantee media freedom and access to information.
Muleya and Gagare were charged under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act following publication of a story alleging that the Morgan Tsvangirai led Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) was engaged in private talks with Zimbabwe’s security chiefs ahead of general elections this year.
For queries or comments, please contact:
MISA-Zimbabwe Senior Programmes Officer
Mobile : +263 712 602 448/ +263 712 639 682
MISA Programme Specialist: Media Freedom Monitoring & Research