Why bar scribes?

HARARE - It is unacceptable that a peaceful march by journalists to mark World Press Freedom Day was blockaded by baton stick-wielding armed riot police yesterday, who imposed a ban on the gathering, after okaying the march earlier.

The demonstration was called to mark World Press Freedom Day as proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of Unesco’s general conference. 

Since then, May 3 anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, is celebrated worldwide as World Press Freedom Day. 

It is an opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Despite having rights of freedom of expression guaranteed under the new Zimbabwe Constitution, large numbers of armed riot police banned the gathering and prevented journalists  from leaving downtown Harare where they planned a procession to Africa Unity Square, were a road show had been scheduled as well. 

Scores of police were also on hand at other rallying points.

Police prevented unarmed journalists from marching, and blockaded several groups of civilians who wanted to express solidarity with the Press.

It is an issue of major concern that the police continue to demonstrate opposition to democratic processes.

It reminds us that journalists remain under threat in Zimbabwe and that we must remain firm in our commitment to making the principles of press freedom a reality in our country.

Journalism is an incredibly important tool in creating free, open and informed societies.

We implore the police to be committed to the principles of a free press, and the rights of journalists to go about their jobs without fear or hindrance.

The theme for this year’s commemorations was “Media Freedom for a Better Future: Shaping the post-2015 Development Agenda.”

It is trite at this point to remind the police that journalism provides a platform for informed discussion across a wide range of development issues — from environmental challenges and scientific progress to gender equality, youth engagement and peace-building.

Only when journalists are at liberty to monitor, investigate and criticise policies and actions can good governance exist.

It is sad when all acts of free expression, collective action and peaceful protests are banned.

It need not be this way. It raises questions about government’s commitment to engagement with the media, and the ongoing efforts to chart a new paradigm under the Information Media Panel of Inquiry.

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