By RICHARD MUPONDE /MOSES MATENGA
THE Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) yesterday threatened to clamp down on social media users who “cyber-bully” government officials, which critics say is meant to muzzle critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa on social media.
Media experts also accused the government of trying to close media space. This came as Harare’s provincial development co-ordinator Tafadzwa Muguti claimed he was being targeted on social media, while Zanu PF last week also claimed that Mnangagwa was a victim of online cyber-bullying.
“The ZRP warns individuals and groups from committing crimes through cyber-bullying of government officials who will be performing their constitutional and lawful obligations in terms of service delivery to Zimbabweans,” the police said in a terse statement.
They further said the cyber-bullying of government officials was perpetrated by “certain groups of suspects who know their arrest is imminent”.
Police tagged Information secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana and Muguti in their statement on Twitter.
Muguti had earlier taken to Twitter to say that he had been bullied and was being threatened for doing his job.
“No amount of smearing my name with false stories will intimidate me. I was appointed to clean up the corruption and land barons. Believe me, no amount of death threats, following me from work or dishing sewer drawn corruption allegations against me will work. We are coming for you.
“I am sick and tired of being diplomatic to insults and now death threats and name-smearing. You start it and I respond. At the same time, I keep doing the very job. All the same, always take advice, thank you,” Muguti ranted.
Muguti was said to have been offended by a letter circulating on social media claiming that he allegedly illegally received a piece of land in Chitungwiza in July 2019, without following procedure.
He denied the allegations, saying all due processes were followed.
Media experts and human rights organisations reacted saying that the police should not play referee on social media by seemingly protecting government officials.
Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe executive director and Media Alliance of Zimbabwe vice-chairperson Loughty Dube said: “The police have no role to be involved in issues of freedom of expression. Every citizen has a right to engage in a civil manner a government official and it is not the role of the police to referee on what people would say or who they should talk to or whether anybody should not engage with anyone.
“If anyone is aggrieved, they go to the police and the police will then act whenever someone has approached them, but it is not for them to referee to say this one is not tweeting properly and so on, that is not the role of the police,” he said.
Dube said citizens had a right to hold government officials and Mnangagwa accountable on any platform including social media.
Zimbabwe Union Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi said: “When I saw the tweet, I dismissed it because I thought somebody had hacked the police Twitter handle. We do not believe civilians can pose a threat to government officials. I would have believed it if it was about the terrorist attack on journalists covering a Press conference at Impala Car Hire. It was a terrorist attack because those involved were never arrested or said to be on the run.”
Analyst Rashweat Mukundu said: “Maybe there is need for a social media literacy class by police on what cyber-bullying is, which laws criminalise it and a few examples of such cases so that we may know how to moderate our behaviour when engaging government officials.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa) Zimbabwe chapter director Tabani Moyo said law enforcement agents, the police, needed to approach the issue in a holistic manner and not from the angle of the ruling elite.
“Everyone deserves to be protected when doing their work online, be it women in media or across the divide, be it the youth, the opposition and ruling party members. Protecting only the ruling elite is missing the target and they have to promote responsible use of the internet and not trample over rights of citizens in the process just to protect the ruling class elite,” Mpofu said.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said the Constitution allowed every Zimbabwean to participate in gatherings and peaceful activities, as well as to challenge or support government.
“In terms of section 219(1)(e) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the police service and its functions include ‘upholding this Constitution and enforcing the same law without fear or favour’,” Mahere said.