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MDCs slam arrest of journalists

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The two MDC formations on Thursday joined media organisations in condemning the arrest of two Alpha Media Holdings journalists on Tuesday, saying it was unnecessary.

Nevanji Madanhire, the editor of The Standard, and reporter Nqaba Matshazi were charged with stealing documents from a medical aid society owned by Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe adviser Munyaradzi Kereke.

The two journalists were also charged with criminal defamation for publishing a story claiming that Kereke’s GreenCard Medical Aid Society faced collapse based on the “stolen documents”.

Harare magistrate Sandra Mupindu granted the pair $100 bail each after a 24-hour detention and ordered them to surrender their passports. Their trial has been set for December 20.

MDC president Welshman Ncube described the arrest as unwarranted as the complainant had alternative remedies at his disposal.

“I believe that journalists must be allowed to report freely even on issues that we don’t like,” Ncube said.

“Remedy is not suppression and arrest of journalists. Even where newspapers have got facts completely wrong, it should be handled by the media commission or the voluntary media councils.

“The obligation is to retract if the facts are wrong. Yes, damage would have been done, but where there has been a full unconditional retraction it is better.”

Ncube, who is also a professor of law, said there was no need to resort to criminal law in dealing with journalists.

“We will continue to say ‘please avoid using criminal law as there are enough civil remedies to deal with mistakes or even malicious ones’, ” he said.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC-T formation described the arrest as ‘‘irrational”.

In a statement, the MDC-T said it “notes with concern that the continued arrests in the country are only targeted at private media reporters while those writing for the State media have an open approval to do as they wish by going on a campaign of writing entire falsehoods against elected officials who are not from Zanu PF”.

Local and international media organisations also criticised Madanhire and Matshazi’s arrest.

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) said it was meant to intimidate the private media.

“VMCZ views the arrest of the two as part of a growing campaign to intimidate the media and muzzle the Press, in a bid to stop journalists from unearthing corrupt practices,” the body said in a statement.

“VMCZ also calls on the inclusive government to condemn the police actions. The government must demonstrate its commitment to the principles of accountability by enforcing freedom of expression.”

Mohamed Keita, Africa advocacy coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said the arrest showed that the unity government was failing to live up to its promises.

“Zimbabwe’s government has failed to deliver on 2008 pledges to reform draconian media and security laws criminalising investigative journalism,” Keita said.

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