Police blasted for beating up journos

HARARE - Media practitioners, political and social commentators have blasted the anti-riot police who on Wednesday ran amok, beating up journalists who were covering a peaceful demonstration against continued joblessness and the introduction of bond notes in the capital, Harare.

On the fateful day Zimbabwe police fired tear gas and water cannons to break up anti-government protests; in the mayhem they beat up several journalists, smashed a video camera and attacked a journalist’s car, breaking windows and taking a laptop.

Human rights activist Dewa Mavhinga said recent police beatings of journalists covering protests are a blatant violation of constitutionally protected rights to media freedom and freedom of expression.

“The government must ensure that such abuses stop and are not repeated and punish those who beat up journalists who were doing their jobs to report news of protests.

“If the government continues to trample on people's rights the spotlight will remain on Zimbabwe to show the world that there is no rule of law and this will not inspire confidence in investors who may wish to do business in the country,” said Mavhinga.

He added that the journalists who were assaulted and media rights organisations like the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe Chapter must urgently lodge complaints against police conduct before the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission which is the right body mandated to handle such issues.

MISA-Zimbabwe executive director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said while it is always advisable for journalists to avoid hot zones and assess the situation carefully, as there is no story worth dying for; the challenge is that this is a police force that indiscriminately attacks civilians, journalists included.

“It is a police force that not so long ago was reported as having conducted door to door beatings of civilians in residential areas, it is a police force that even when you have accreditation and a clear mark of a journalists, it still beats you up and do as it pleases with you and your equipment.

“It is simply a ruthless machinery whose sails are propelled by impunity and inaction by relevant authorities,” said Ngwenya. “One question we should ask is what did the police spokesperson mean when she said the police did not notice journalists in their acts of wanton violence against peaceful civilians exercising their rights? Does this mean that it was right for the police to act in the manner in which they did had it not been for their attack on journalists?”

Ngwenya said it is important to put this recent wave of attacks into proper context. “For more than 15 years now, Zimbabweans are waiting for justice on the illegal detention and torture of journalists Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto, the apprehension and prosecution of those that bombed the Daily News and VOP; the sanctioning of police officers who tortured scores of journalists in detention; the reprimand of police officers who beat up journalists, confiscated and destroyed their equipment. The cases are many to mention.

“It is crucial to note that while we all can try and help journalists avoid such harassment, the problem lies within state actors who appear to encourage such practices by their failure to take decisive action.”

Ngwenya added that with political tensions rising and the ruling elite fighting for survival, Zimbabwe is likely to record more cases of such abuse of media practitioners. “Despite constitutional safeguards, we are headed for the worst unless government is held accountable and takes action.”

MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said the Zanu PF regime is in panic mode and one can expect this collapsing regime to be more intolerant and brutal as we enter the homestretch.

“Any government that sanctions and authorises a violent clamp down on journalists is a very one. At this rate, attacks on journalists and other political and civic activists will get worse as Election 2018 approaches.

“President Robert Mugabe knows that his party, Zanu PF, has got a snowball's chance in hell of winning a free and fair election. Going forward, things will certainly get worse before they get better,” said Gutu.

Media practitioner Rashweat Mukundu said the dictum is that there is no story worthy dying for and if the situation is risky journalists must focus on their physical safety first.

“It is however important for journalists to clearly identify themselves as journalists. And in a riot situation, Press vests or Bibs clearly marked ‘Press’ or ‘Media’ would help as well as other gadgets to protect oneself such as arm and leg guards and in worse situations bullet proof vests,” said Mukundu.

He added that in the case of the recent attacks this appear premeditated by the police as they clearly knew who the journalists were. “In that situation we are talking of outright media violations as the journalists were deliberately attacked and the call is on the police to respect the rights of journalists to operate freely.”

Media activist Tabani Moyo said the safety of all citizens is a prerogative of the state; in essence the President took oath to protect the Constitution of Zimbabwe.

“It is the duty of the state to ensure that journalists are protected in line with section 62 of the constitution and the expansive bill of rights.

“Events of the past few days shows that the safety and security of journalists is now at great risk in Zimbabwe as evidenced by the increasing number of cases involving the assault of journalists while conducting their lawful professional duties,” said Moyo.

He added that it is indeed worrying that the police as “custodians of the law should themselves be on the forefront of these wanton unlawful assaults of journalists whose work and right to cover and report events as they unfold is protected by the Constitution.

“I therefore reiterate calls for these cases to be thoroughly investigated and bring the perpetrators to book.”

Political commentator Blessing Vava said the state's heavy handedness towards journalists is worrisome as it curtails media freedoms.

“The attacks are systematic, deliberate and not a surprise at all, as Grace Mugabe and his husband have been issuing out threats to journalists. It seems it is going to escalate as we draw closer to 2018.

“The state should be reminded that journalism is not a crime and they must stop this barbarism and allow the media to perform its duties as the fourth estate,” said Vava.

Media practitioner John Masuku said journalism can be a risky job. “Therefore journalists should exercise extreme caution when covering potentially volatile events since their safety cannot be fully guaranteed.

“Political parties and civic groups should start now to preach peace among their supporters and activists so that 2018 can be peaceful.

“Law enforcement agents should flush out real criminal elements rather than taking sides in their approach.”

MISA-Zimbabwe chairperson Kumbirai Mafunda the police action was a barbaric act that can only be executed by thugs and not any law enforcement agents.

“Those are people don't deserve to be wearing the ZRP uniform. This callous behaviour must not go unpunished and we hope that by now Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri has acted against those thugs so that they are discharged from the ZRP.

“The law enforcement agents must furnish us with details from a thorough probe and those responsible for butchering innocent journalists must rot in Chikurubi if not in hell,” said Mafunda.

He added that safety and security is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution and media practitioners must enjoy such rights. “It's shameful and this administration has no one to blame but itself for the consequences that shall visit it.

“Journalism is not a crime. Violation of journalists' rights will worsen owing to impunity and failure to punish perpetrators.”

Mafunda added that the journalists’ defense lies in both state and non-state actors respecting the constitution.

Comments (1)

go to konstruktor.com and publish your own story!

Svetlana - 19 August 2016

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