Journalists and organisations representing the media have lambasted the police for criminalising the profession and fumed over the latest detention, that of Standard journalist Nqobani Ndlovu.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president (ZUJ), Dumisani Sibanda said the organisation was now mounting a “Free Nqobani’’ campaign as it was clear that the case was a calculated move to harass and intimidate journalists from exposing the police where they might have faltered.
Zimbabwe Journalists for Human Rights spokesperson Dumisani Muleya said Ndlovu’s arrest and continued detention was clear evidence that Zimbabwe was descending into media repression.
“We are now sliding back into media tyranny after a brief reprieve,” Muleya said. “Ndlovu’s arrest and continued detention is evidence of a renewed crackdown on the media and journalists by the system’s ruthless agents of repression and their thought police. We condemn this new wave of harassment and intimidation of journalists. In that connection we demand Ndlovu’s immediate and unconditional release. Those detaining him must stop this barbaric and unwarranted persecution of journalists.”
Journalists told NewsDay that the latest incarceration was “barbaric, violent and uncalled for”.
This came after the state yesterday invoked section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to deny Ndlovu his freedom after he had been granted $100 bail by a Bulawayo magistrate.
Ndlovu is in the dock for writing a story that the police had allegedly cancelled promotion examinations for its officers.
Muleya gave the example of the late Mark Chavunduka, who was detained and harassed by the army after writing a story.
“When I interviewed him, he was visibly disoriented and you cannot delink his death and the attack by police,” Muleya said.
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chapter chairman Loughty Dube said the continued harassment of journalists was a shame.
“This is travesty of justice. All this is meant to intimidate journalists from writing on social ills they see in society and this is unacceptable. The police are abusing their power to further their own interests and all this is against press freedom and freedom of expression,” he said.
“It’s very bad for the police to criminalise the profession and arresting those going about doing their jobs. Police should desist from this action.”
Sibanda said ZUJ would join forces with other media organisations to fight police harassment.
“As the magistrate put it aptly, Ndlovu is a good candidate for bail. The state case is frivolous and vexatious to say the least,” said Sibanda.
“We just have to understand as journalists that an injury to one is an injury to all and please the arrest of Nqobani should by no means deter us from writing police stories as long as we follow the dictates of professional journalism. It is our duty to inform the public about government institutions and we should not in any way be obstructed from carrying out that duty. For the umpteenth time, we repeat the need for a constitution that expressly guarantees media freedom in the same manner as the First Amendment in the United States Constitution.”
Sibanda said laws that criminalise journalism as a profession were “barbaric and belong to the Stone Age” and called upon MPs to review such legislation if democracy is to flourish in the country.
The arrest of Ndlovu was viewed by local and international groups as a ploy by the police to instill fear and silence journalists seeking to write the truth.