Journalists arrested over army story

HARARE - Police yesterday pounced on the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent Dumisani Muleya and reporter Owen Gagare for allegedly publishing “falsehoods”.

They were charged and released after signing a warned and cautioned statement.

Muleya and Gagare were charged under the Criminal Law (Codification & Reform) Act Section 31 which deals with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State.”

If convicted, offenders would be guilty of publishing or communicating a false statement prejudicial to the State and liable to a fine up to or exceeding level 14 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both.

After his release, Muleya said this was one of the many cases of intimidation of journalists which is rampant in Zimbabwe.

“This is a clear abuse of State machinery and an act of systematic harassment and intimidation of journalists who are merely doing their job. 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.

“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.”  

Media organisations roundly condemned the police action.

Alec Muchadehama, chairperson of media ethics watchdog, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ), slammed the arrest calling it deplorable as it comes soon after the celebration of World Press Freedom Day.

“The VMCZ condemns the arrest of Muleya and Gagare by the police for allegedly publishing falsehoods. (It is) not in keeping with the universally acknowledged principles of media freedom and freedom of expression,” Muchadehama said in a statement.

The VMCZ questioned the State’s sincerity and commitment to press freedom ahead of watershed elections later this year.

“The VMCZ reiterates that it is undemocratic for the State to seek and continue to criminalise the work of professional journalists. This is particularly so where there is the utilisation of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act) to arrest and charge journalists under criminal law with publishing falsehoods.

“The VMCZ calls for the immediate release of the two Zimbabwe Independent journalists if the State is to demonstrate its full commitment to media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information,” said VMCZ.

Muchadehama urged the government to use other avenues to seek redress on stories published in the media.

“These options include seeking the right of reply and also approaching the VMCZ Media Complaints Committee for amicable adjudication in terms of the Media Code of Conduct,” the statement said.

Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef) said the arrest showed how the press remained an endangered species.

“We are 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,” said Zinef chairperson Brian Mangwende.

“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,” said Mangwende.

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