A RETROSPECTIVE look at the year when journalists were abducted, detained, imprisoned and killed for telling the truth.
GUEST COLUMNIST MAYNARD MANYOWA
Despots masquerading as leaders engineered exceedingly brutal assaults on Press and mass media freedom throughout the year 2015.
In their bid to silence opposition, stifle voices of reason, and prevent exposés of their stink, these enemies of humanity have left a cold trail of carnage.
Collectively, the year saw no shift in the abusive propensities of totalitarian regimes. The repression continued, the crackdown always loomed large and eventually manifested into tangible destructive violence and death. Our history at their hands is brutal, the present soon to be the past was similar.
Accounting for the actions of the last decade alone, the government in Zimbabwe stands liable for no less than a dozen serious transgressions on freedom of information. The actual number could be much more.
Often with rude arrogance, they intentionally and grossly violated these freedoms, in contravention of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On the March 9, 2015, our compatriot journalist-cum-human rights activist Itai Dzamara was abducted by unidentified men suspected to be State security agents. He is still missing, and increasingly suspected dead. His kidnapping brought back harrowing memories for media personnel in a country where we have been repeatedly harassed with encouraged licence and even instruction from high offices.
It was easy to recall the events of March 29, 2007, when Edward Chikomba, a freelance cameraman, was kidnapped by suspected State agents. On March 31, two days later, his badly beaten body was discovered. Like we see with Dzamara today, the regime arrogantly refused to conduct any investigation with the slightest degree of seriousness.
On March 16, 2015, a group of police officers raided the offices of an independent online business news agency, The Source.
This was in retaliation for revelations that the Zanu PF administration was borrowing money from Econet, whose owner Strive Masiyiwa has for years denied utilising or receiving political goodwill because of “secret payments” to big political players.
On November 2, 2015, scribes from public-owned, but State-operated media house, Zimbabwe Newspapers, which publishes The Sunday Mail, The Herald and The Chronicle, among others, were arrested.
This was in retribution to exposés that a powerful police commissioner was behind a covert poaching ring that had poisoned nearly 100 elephants and smuggled their tusks out of the country.
Among many other journos and incidents, Andrison Manyere, Angela Jimu, Edgar Gweshe and Privilege Musvanhiri were all illegally detained and beaten with clenched fists and booted feet by police.
Dare I say freedoms of expression and information are officially under attack? Certified institutions of State like the police have become instruments of torture, riding on unconstitutional laws like criminal insult, criminal defamation, and publishing falsehoods.
They threaten and act on media by detention, imprisonment and consequent free violence.
Spokesperson for the police, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, even issued statements to the effect that arrested journalists needed to reveal their sources, against media ethics, never mind the Constitution or the law.
President Robert Mugabe, his wife First Lady Grace Mugabe, his spokesperson George Charamba and other key figures in Zanu PF and government have throughout the year explicitly and implicitly threatened the Fourth Estate. As a result, we were undressed and brutally raped.
The protracted hostilities against mass media is widespread and continental. Elsewhere, our African brothers have been violated too. To date, Eritrea floats high on the disgraceful list of the most oppressive States.
The repression in Eritrea is so intense that it easily far exceeds daunting tyrannies like the maniac led North Korea, the anachronistic medieval Saudi Arabia, the extremist Iran and the war-ravaged Syria.
Eritrea shares a history like ours. By 2001, all privately-owned media agencies had been shut down and their journalists jailed. Nearly all those arrested remain locked away. None of them have appeared in court, and there are no indications they will be freed or given a date with justice, albeit perverted and slanted justice.
In Ethiopia, at least four high-profile journalists were arrested this year, and at least 10 remain imprisoned. This followed one of the largest crackdowns on the Press instigated by the tyranny in 2014, which resulted in 16 journalists fleeing into forced exile, arrest of 23, and State-forced closure of eight publications.
These numbers paint a grim picture, but there still remains conservative estimates at the very precious least. In several of these countries, the State machinery has been designed to monitor, suppress, silence and control the flow of factual information.
It is nearly impossible to conduct a full census and several journalists languish in prison, with all avenues to tell their story effectively blocked.
Several of our associates that dare to tell the truth are harassed, intimidated and arbitrary jail is an assured reality. Like us, their only option is exile into foreign and often unfriendly lands.
For all African members of the Fourth Estate, 2015 was yet another year of immense persecution. We are no exception and 2016 beckons an escalation of the bloodletting. Except for the
ever-silent Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, all other powerful figures around the presidium have promised “war against free information”. They have promised to viciously crack the whip.
They probably will.
But we shall remain buoyant, and vigilant. We are journalists and not terrorists. We do not have guns and prisons, but we have pens, and words. Ink cannot be killed. They may spill our blood, but we are resilient. We shall continue to report, analyse and expose. We are motivated by ethics and dedicated to values.
We are watchdogs, not lapdogs. Under our watch, liberty will not perish.
Maynard Manyowa is a journalist, the editor and publisher of online news aggregator, The Southern Daily. He can be reached for feedback via his personal website: www.maynardmanyowa.com