BY METHEMBE SIBANDA UNITED Nations Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly Clement Nyaletsossi Voule has asked President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to allow journalists and human rights defenders to exercise and enjoy their fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly.
In a recent report on human rights issues in Zimbabwe, Voule said he was concerned about the increasing arrests of journalists, human rights defenders and student union leaders.
Recently, Alpha Media Holdings Editor-in-Chief Wisdom Mdzungairi was arrested together with senior court reporter Desmond Chingarande and charged with contravening the Cyber and Data Protection Act.
Heart & Soul (HStv) journalists Blessed Mhlanga and Chengeto Chidi were also recently arrested for allegedly contravening the Electoral Act after reportedly taking pictures at a polling station.
“The special rapporteur wishes to underscore his concern with the apparent arbitrary arrest, detention and levying of charges against human rights defenders, journalists, student union leaders and politicians, following their attempts to gather information,” Voule said.
“There is need to ensure that those monitoring assemblies including journalists, media workers and human rights defenders, are allowed to work and are protected at all times during assemblies, and that violations are duly investigated.”
Voule urged government to ensure that there is no discrimination in the application of laws, saying in most cases, journalists expressing dissenting views were subjected to prosecution and unnecessary harassment.
“There is need to ensure that there is no discrimination in the application of the laws governing the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in particular, regarding the groups most at risk and those expressing dissenting views. Information from several sources suggests those expressing dissenting views including journalists, members of civil society, those supporting opposition political parties and human rights defenders are subjected to prosecutions, surveillance and harassment,” he said.
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The UN urged government to ensure that all allegations of excessive use of force against protesters by the security forces are promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated, and that the alleged perpetrators’ remedy is provided to the victims.
The Cyber and Data Protection Act has been criticised for giving too much powers to law enforcement authorities and the Information ministry, as well as for allowing the monitoring of private electronic communication in violation of the country’s Constitution.
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