By Idah Mhetu
THE Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) has condemned the arrest of NewZimbabwe.com reporter Leopold Kudakwashe Munhende.
Munhende was arrested while covering a protest by the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) in central Harare.
In a statement Friday, ZUJ secretary general Foster Dongozi said the rights of journalists and their working conditions in Zimbabwe were under siege from authorities.
Munhende was bundled onto a police truck along with hordes of protesting teachers and human rights lawyer Douglas Coltart. The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe was picketing outside the New Government Complex where Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube’s offices are.
Dongozi said the arrests and assaults of journalists were totally unacceptable and a disgrace to Zimbabwe’s quest for a return to the international fold after years of isolation.
“Freedom of expression, journalism, working conditions and human rights of journalists are clearly under siege and we are calling for an end to the acts of aggression and brutality being perpetrated by police against journalists,” Dongozi said.
Dongozi said he had raised the issue with police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.
“The trend in which police seem to be targeting journalists while on assignment is very worrying and as a result, I phoned police spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi to find out if their officers are not aware that journalism is not a crime as far as the national Constitution is concerned,” said the ZUJ secretary general.
“In the end, we agreed to meet as soon as possible so that we try and find a solution.”
NewZimbabwe.com Deputy Editor Richard Chidza who also spoke to the police spokesperson said Nyathi had promised a meeting between the security agents and the media to iron out issues.
“We spent the better part of the day struggling to have our reporter released. We are of the firm belief that there was no reason for his arrest in the first place because he was only doing his job. We do not deploy reporters to join protests but to bring the story to Zimbabweans. Police officers need to be made aware of the work of journalists during training if possible.
“Assistant Commissioner Nyathi was very helpful and we have made our position clear that relations between the police and the media need to be worked on. He has promised to organise a meeting between the police leadership and media groups which we think could help in building relations. Hostilities will not help any of us,” Chidza said.
“We expect our law enforcement actors to be cognisant of the work of other stakeholders in the building of a truly democratic State. The media is a vital cog and its space needs to be respected just as much as the police need to be allowed to do their work without hindrance.”
Chidza also paid tribute to the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) for swiftly providing legal assistance.
“We are also indebted to MISA for their swift response in our quest to help Munhende. MISA provided lawyer Chris Mhike who was on hand to help and also spent hours waiting to get access to the reporter despite the frustrations from police,” the NewZimbabwe.com Deputy Editor said.