By Leopold Munhende
HIGH Court Judge Justice Jacob Manzunzu has ordered police and all state security commanders to clearly communicate to their subordinates, the validity of the Zimbabwe Media Commission’s (ZMC) 2019 media accreditation cards.
The order was given after freelance journalist Panashe Makufa and the Media Institute of South Africa (MISA) had gone to court to challenge the state security agents to stop the harassment of journalists going about their lawful duties.
ZMC is still to issue accreditation cards for 2020 while government has sanctioned the use of 2019 cards.
“Police officers and all other law enforcement agencies charged with the duty to implement the Covid-19 related lockdown are interdicted from arresting, detaining or interfering in any unnecessary way with the work of Makufa and members of MISA,” reads the order in part.
“The ZRP is hereby ordered to ensure that ZMC’s statement about the validity of 2019 Press Cards is communicated to all Police Stations in Zimbabwe, as well as commanding offices of any agents who might be assisting the ZRP in enforcing the law within 12 hours after the handing down of this order.”
Over 10 journalists from across the country have been harassed since the lockdown was announced late March.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa Sunday extended his initial 21-day lockdown decree by 14 days.
Justice Manzunzu also dismissed the state’s argument only journalists attached to state broadcaster ZBC were regarded essential.
Top media lawyer, Chris Mhike who represented Makufa and MISA, said there was no way the fight against Covid-19 could be won without media involvement.
“We believe that the opposite side was being naughty or unnecessarily difficult in contending that journalists are not part of essential services,” Mhike said.
“Journalists have been, continue to and will forever be part of essential services, you cannot effectively fight Covid-19 without the participation of journalists.
“Access to information is at the core of the fight against Covid-19, we are very pleased that the court has recognised the centrality of the media to the fight against Covid-19 and the proper function of a democratic society.”