By Anna Chibamu
LOCAL media and human rights organisations have strongly condemned the State over its barbaric arrest and detention of two journalists arrested who were covering the abduction and torture of three MDC youth female activists.
Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira were arrested Friday on charges of contravening the lockdown restrictions before they were denied bail by Harare magistrate the next day.
In an interview with newzimbabwe.com Saturday, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe Chapter director Tabani Moyo said the government was targeting wrong the people in its arbitrary arrests.
“The continued harassment of journalists is deplorable by all means. This is a show that the more things change, the more they remain the same,” he said.
“Journalism under Section 61 is a constitutionally guaranteed profession. Above all, it is classified as an essential service by a statutory instrument issued by the ministry.
“We hold a strong notion that if we are to defeat this pandemic (Covid-19), the government should remove its eyes from the wrong targets. Journalism is not an enemy here, the enemy is Covid-19,” Moyo stated.
Zimbabwe’s Union of Journalists (ZUJ) secretary general Foster Dongozi demanded the immediate release of the two journalists and urged the government not to politicise certain issues or institutions.
“ZUJ is deeply concerned by the attitude displayed by the police and the State towards our friends Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira. We believe this is high handedness,” he said.
“The two are being treated as if they are dangerous criminals when this issue could have been dealt easily without necessarily having to detain them.
“We strongly condemn this kind of attitude and behaviour, if anything, keeping them in remand prison is counterproductive as this could result in them contracting Covid-19.
“We demand their immediate release and they should be treated as law-abiding citizens. We do not want to see issues of journalists being politicised. These journalists should not be caught in the politicisation of certain institutions or aspects,” Dongozi chipped in.
Human Rights (NGO) Forum chairperson and Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) director Jestina Mukoko said it was unfortunate journalists have to struggle to do their work.
“MISA went to court and won the case as journalists were given the green light to do their work without interference from police,” she said.
“Even when we go to our Constitution, we have a progressive Constitution yet no one really speaks to it in the spirit that gives freedom to people being able to get information and be able to express themselves in the manner they would want to express themselves.
“Journalists have a role to play in society and if that role is withdrawn, it means that as citizens’ rights are actually violated,” Mukoko highlighted.
Journalist Paidamoyo Muzulu accused the State of being vindictive.
“The state is acting vindictive. The two journalists could have been released into the custody of their lawyer. They are not a flight risk. The State treats others differently. For instance, former Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana had his bail application done late at night so that he did not have to go to remand prison. Journalists should also be treated with respect.”
Lucy Yasini, a freelance journalist alleged police were keen to silence the media.
“If you silence the media, you have silenced the people. How can one be arrested for doing their job? It is like arresting a teacher for attending to learners or a doctor for saving lives,” Yasini said.