Press rights group slams harassment of journos

HARARE - Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the harassment of journalists, in recent weeks, by President Robert Mugabe’s government and his party Zanu PF.

This comes as journalists have become victims of physical attacks and intimidation, as the political situation in Zimbabwe worsens.

Among the victims was Daily News senior writer Mugove Tafirenyika who was roughed up by Zanu PF yobs at the party’s headquarters in Harare during a rally in support of the nonagenarian.

“Far from condemning these excesses, the president (Mugabe) condones them because he identifies journalists with the opposition and does not recognise their public service function. After the latest case at his rally, he said: ‘To journalists, I say go and tell those who you are representing that ...) Mugabe is still here,” RSF said in a statement.

“We call on the Zimbabwean judicial authorities to conduct an investigation into all this violence in order to end the impunity for abuses against journalists, abuses that clearly violate both the country’s Constitution and its laws.”

Noting the impunity enjoyed by Zanu PF members, RSF said the Zimbabwean authorities have launched a clampdown against everyone perceived as critics of the government and Zanu PF — including journalists. Mugabe is on RSF’s list of 40 “predators of press freedom”, while Zimbabwe is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Apart from the Tafirenyika incident, there have also been a series of harassment towards journalists.

“Five journalists — Edgar Gweshe, Garikai Chaunza, James Jemwa, Khumbulani Zamuchiya and Chris Mahove — were arrested on June 26 while covering one of the regular protests outside Harare’s luxurious Rainbow Towers Hotel. The protesters wanted to evict Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, who has been living there for nearly two years and has run up a tab of several hundred thousand dollars. When Agence France-Presse reporter Farai Mugano went to cover the protest on July 14, he was arrested and was later released without charge.

A visiting reporter for Britain’s Sky News, Alex Crawford, and her cameraman, Garwen McLuckie, were deported on July 13 although they had acquired permission to report in Zimbabwe.

“Their equipment was searched and some of their papers were photographed. Far from apologising, Information permanent secretary George Charamba told AFP: ‘‘They breached our laws, we kicked them out. You don’t enter a country without accreditation,” the RSF statement read.

“The harassment is related to a wave of anti-government protests that began several months ago and were sparked by revelations about the vast sum (more than 700 000 euros) that the state lavished on Mugabe’s 92nd birthday celebrations despite a deep economic crisis.”

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