Outrage as Press Freedom Day march is banned

HARARE - Media freedom groups have slammed the last minute police ban of a World Press Freedom Day march scheduled for yesterday.

Zimbabwe had lined up the march to mark the worldwide commemoration of World Press Freedom Day, marked on May 3 every year.

The Zimbabwe Republic Police, who had on April 16 cleared the march, withdrew the authorisation for the march and road show, which were the highlight of Press Freedom Day commemorations.

The march was scheduled to start in downtown Harare and proceed to Africa Unity Square yesterday morning in the city.

Police cited “other events of national interest” that had cropped up for the ban.

“This office kindly regrets that our earlier approval of the event has been withdrawn due to cropping up of other events of national interest and our police officers will be committed to such events,” read the letter from officer commanding Harare, chief superintendent  Newbert Saunyama. Despite highlighting that police officers were committed elsewhere, baton-wielding anti-riot police officers were deployed to forestall the march.

The march had been organised by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras) and the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz). Both groups said the ban was unconstitutional and a violation of media rights.  

Zacras said it had paid the police a total of $278 for escort traffic officers plus insurance and it was not clear if the cash would be refunded.

“Let us not lower our guard and believe that now we are friends but that we are still in a jungle where other animals are superior,” said Gift Mapimbiri, Zacras chairperson.

“It’s not yet Uhuru in terms of media freedom.”

He said it was important for media freedom advocates and journalists to understand that media freedom was not going to be handed over on a silver platter by politicians.

He said the media will have to demand the freedom of the Press, adding that the coming together of journalists was going to be a platform to interrogate media laws and other issues affecting journalists.

“It is now exactly a year since we adopted the new constitution, but have we seen any material changes — regarding the media — underlining that we are now under a new constitutional dispensation?,” Mapimbiri said.

“We have not seen any! The media space, especially in broadcasting, is still constricted.  Journalists are still being arrested as they would still have been, in 2008.

“We have not seen any huge appetite to align our media laws to the new constitution.”

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