Outcry over arrest of ANZ journalists

HARARE - Monday's arrest of Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe Group Editor, Stanley Gama, and senior writer Fungisai Kwaramba, has elicited widespread condemnation from both Zanu PF and the MDC, with both parties saying the abuse of Criminal Defamation laws by powerful interests must stop.

Usually divided in their opinion politicians from the two major parties have shown unity in criticising the use of archaic defamation laws against the media.

Gama and Kwaramba were arrested at the instigation of controversial businessman Kamal Khalfan over stories linking the Omani citizen to alleged underhand deals in Zimbabwe.



Kamal Khalfan seen here with Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services boss Paradzai Zimondi (centre) and Central Intelligence Organisation director-general Happyton Bonyongwe.

Virtually all the people who spoke to the Daily News yesterday, including lawmakers, politicians and analysts, slammed the Defamation laws and called on authorities to drop the criminal charges against the two ANZ journalists who spent three hours at Highlands Police Station on Monday where they were made to sign warned and cautioned statements before being released.

ANZ is the publisher of the Daily News and the Daily News on Sunday.

The overriding sentiment from most people was that criminal prosecutions for defamation had a chilling effect on the freedom of the press. Many lawmakers were also worried that the arrest could have serious implications on the Daily News’ future, possibly compromising its ability to report on high-level corruption.

Mudzi South independent MP Jonathan Samkange said the police had erred in arresting the duo.

“I think the police should not have arrested him (Gama),” Samkange said.

“The police violated the editor and his reporter’s constitutional rights. In Zimbabwe, there is no law more superior than the Constitution and the police know this,” he said.

The Mudzi South MP — who vowed last year to fight for the quashing of criminal defamation — said he suspected that there were political undertones to the arrest.

“Unless we are saying that our law enforcers do not know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and I sincerely doubt that. I believe the police acted because they were persuaded by some political elements,” Samkange said.

Kindness Paradza, a journalist by profession and Zanu PF MP for Makonde, also accused the police of acting in an unconstitutional manner.

“I think police were uncivilised in this matter,” Paradza said.

“What they did is ultra vires the new Constitution. If they are not familiar with the new Constitution, we should organise a seminar for them so that they fully comprehend the new supreme law of the land.

“We know that they are used to the era where journalists were harassed and arrested. Unfortunately, that era is long gone. We have moved on and so has the minister of Information Jonathan Moyo. If anyone has a case, he should approach the civil courts,” he said.

Information, Media and Broadcasting Services minister Jonathan Moyo has also said those aggrieved by the publication or broadcast of allegedly defamatory statements must pursue remedies through a civil action, and not file a criminal complaint.

Moyo said: “In our view criminal defamation is not only outdated and incompatible with the values and ideals of the liberation struggle with respect to human rights and freedoms but also, and more importantly, criminal defamation is inconsistent with our new Constitution.”

“In this connection, we are of the firm view that a criminal defamation charge cannot be sustained in the courts and should therefore be removed from our statute books in order to align the law with the new Constitution and to avoid wasting of police resources and time over a matter that has no constitutional basis,” he added.

MDC spokesperson Douglas Mwonzora said the arrest of the duo indicated that there was some fear in some quarters over the stories.

“As far as we are concerned, Khalfan has a case to answer concerning his dealings in Zimbabwe,” Mwonzora said.

“He should come clean and stop running to law enforcers. By reporting to the police, what is he trying to hide from?  If he has a grievance he should go to the civil courts.

“The use of criminal defamation clearly inhibits the freedom of expression, thus going against the Constitution.

“We view the arrest of the Daily News editor as an attempt to silence independent newspapers. We condemn the unlawful arrest of Daily News staffers as it is an affront to the freedom of expression,” he said.

Settlement Chikwinya, MDC MP for Mbizo, who also sits in Parliament’s Media, Information and Broadcasting Services committee, said the arrest of the Daily News staffers was unconstitutional.

“It is very unfortunate that citizens and journalists continue to suffer at the hands of the police because of laws which have been outlawed by the Constitution,” Chikwinya said.

James Maridadi, MDC MP for Mabvuku-Tafara, condemned the arrest and said it was an affront to efforts to de-polarise the media.

“The arrest flies in the face of (Minister) Moyo’s attempts to depolarise the media,” Maridadi said.

“Moyo is busy trying to create a favourable environment for media outlets and we have the police arresting Gama and this takes us back to where we started. Therefore, the arrest of Gama doesn’t help anyone and neither does it help the country.”

Eldred Masunungure, a University of Zimbabwe political analyst, said there was urgent need to align all laws with the Constitution.

“The statutory framework should be urgently aligned with the Constitution because currently there is disharmony,” he said.

“The statutory instruments do not speak to the supreme law of the land and this should be addressed so as to avoid having journalist being arrested.

“We might say the law enforcers are simply doing their job by enforcing the law. “But the same should be aware that criminal defamation has been outlawed by the Constitution thus it has become null and void,” he said.

Kumbirai Hodzi, deputy attorney general (AG), told Parliament on Tuesday that the AG’s Office was currently seized with the realignment of all statutes to the new Constitution.

“We are working on 300 pieces of legislation that we want to be in line with the new Constitution and we are in consultation with various government ministries,” Hodzi said.

Comments (6)

A story about Daily News headlining the Daily News for two days in a row here shuwa! What a a vain effort.

Observer - 9 April 2014

And your point Observer? Are you saying the use of an unjust law and the harassment of citizens at the instigation of well-connected foreigners is now news? Really? Wait until some of these laws are turned against you.

Mntungwa - 9 April 2014

@obsever this is a very shallow contribution. It's better to keep quiet if you have nothing to say, or do you work for The People's Voice?

Jonso - 9 April 2014

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GALLERYCARTRIDGES - 10 April 2014

its too much please daily news observer is right.that's are his views and that's his right.everyday reading same story same cry.police ine kodzero yekutora ani zvake kana pane information yavanoda its not harassment.vanotengesa madomasi ndivo pamwe vangataura zve harassment everyday.daily news kutsvaga vekuchema navo uku.

svoto - 10 April 2014

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