Zim, Moza and Zambia sore thumbs in regional press freedom fight

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By Anna Chibamu

MEDIA space continues to shrink in Zimbabwe and Zambia while the Mozambican government has turned hostile to journalists, international human rights group Amnesty International (AI) has said.

In a statement to mark World Press Freedom Day, AI said the past year has seen blatant attempts to muzzle the press in southern Africa.

“Amnesty calls for states to stop treating journalists with contempt. Media freedom remains under threat in several countries in southern Africa, with journalists put in jail for simply doing their job, Amnesty International said today (Friday) as it took stock on World Press Freedom Day.

“In the past year, we have seen blatant attempts to muzzle the media and restrict the right to freedom of expression in countries such as Madagascar, Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe with journalists being harassed or jailed simply for doing their work, with far-reaching implications including self-censorship,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional director for Southern Africa.

“This onslaught is undermining the very essence of free societies, where journalists must be able to do their work without fearing intimidation, harassment or other reprisals.”

Muchena chronicled disturbing incidences over the past year in which journalists were harassed.

“In June 2018, Pindai Dube, a Zimbabwean journalist working for eNCA, an independent television news station based in South Africa, was arrested by police in Pemba and accused of spying. He was released three days later without charge.

“Police in Zimbabwe raided the offices of online news site 263Chat and fired tear gas into the newsroom after chasing reporter Lovejoy Mtongwiza in early April. This was after he filmed the removal of street vendors by the police in the capital, Harare,” the AI director said in the statement.

Muchena added: “Authorities must stop treating the media with contempt and open up the space for journalists to do their work safely without having to look over their shoulders. A vibrant and independent press is essential for the enjoyment of human rights. Journalists should not be treated as enemies of the state.”

United Nations (UN) secretary general Antonio Guterres, in his statement called for a free press and for governments to allow media to report freely so leaders are held accountable.

“At a time when disinformation and mistrust of the news media is growing, a free press is essential for peace, justice, sustainable development and human rights”, said Guterres on Friday.

The UN chief added, “No democracy is complete without access to transparent and reliable information.”

He described a free press as “the cornerstone for building fair and impartial institutions, holding leaders accountable and speaking truth to power.”