ZIMBABWE Independent editor Dumisani Muleya and chief reporter Owen Gagare were yesterday arrested and charged for allegedly publishing falsehoods.
Police detectives said the arrests were in connection with a story published by the weekly newspaper a fortnight ago reporting that MDC-T defence secretary Giles Mutsekwa had held secrets talks with “securocrats” to guarantee their security ahead of this year’s crucial elections.
The pair and Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) company secretary Nqobile Ndlovu were charged with contravening the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
AMH is the publisher of Zimbabwe Independent, NewsDay and The Standard newspapers.
Muleya and Gagare were summoned to Harare Central Police Station’s CID Law and Order Section where they were detained for almost seven hours before being released. Last week, NewsDay chief reporter Everson Mushava and Midlands correspondent Blessed Mhlanga were also summoned by police over stories published by the national daily newspaper.
But, national police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba yesterday said she was not aware of the journalists’ arrests.
“I am not aware of that and I’m yet to hear of it. I’ll find out,” Charamba said.
AMH editor-in-chief Vincent Kahiya said of the arrests: “This is apt evidence that institutions bent on closing the democratic space are still very much around despite all the rhetoric about freedoms enshrined in the new constitution.
“The quest to silence the media through arrests and forcing them to reveal their sources is deplorable and only demonstrates the desperation inherent in our rulers.”
Muleya described the arrests as a clear abuse of the State machinery and an act of systematic harassment and intimidation of journalists.
“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,” Muleya said.
“This uncalled-for move is calculated to muzzle the media, in this case ourselves, to scare us away 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.”
Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum chairperson Brian Mangwende said they were “extremely saddened” by the arrest of Muleya and Gagare on accusations of writing falsehoods.
“The whole episode represents the outstanding democratic deficit in Zimbabwe. Despite approval of a democratic constitution through a referendum on March 16 this year, we still have all the apparatus of a police State,” Mangwende said.
“That is why we want to see progress as soon as possible regarding media reform so journalists are not arrested at will. This could be a precursor of more arrests of journalists in the private media ahead of harmonised polls expected later this year.”