Press freedom in Zimbabwe one step forward, three steps back — Global Affairs

Journalist Jeffery Moyo, with his lawyer, Doug Coltart, outside Bulawayo Magistrates’ Court, Zimbabwe. Moyo faces charges of violating Section 36 of the Immigration Law. His sentencing is scheduled for May 31, 2022. Credit: Busani Bafana / IPS
  • by Busani BafanaBulawayo, Zimbabwe)
  • Inter Press Service

“Journalism is a crime in Zimbabwe, and the regime reacts to independent journalism,” says Moyo, international correspondent for the New York Times and the Inter Press Service (IPS).

criminalizing journalism

Moyo, 37, has been charged with violating Section 36 of the Immigration Act, based on allegations that he made a false representation to immigration officials. This relates to the allegation that he obtained media clearance for two of his colleagues, Christina Goldbaum and Joao Silva, of the New York Times. He faces ten years in jail if he is found guilty of violating Zimbabwe’s Immigration Law by helping two American newspaper journalists to work in the country.

Arrested in May 2021 and held for 21 days in Bulawayo prison before being released, Moyo was initially denied bail on the grounds that he was a threat to national security.

“I live in perpetual fear because I don’t know what the regime is plotting against me,” Moyo told IPS in an interview before appearing in court in Bulawayo. “If you are a freelance journalist in Zimbabwe, you should always watch your back because someone could be following you with the intention of harming you because of your work.”

Moyo lamented that his ongoing year-long judicial ordeal has meant he has little productive time to do his job, which means lost income.

“Any regime that projects itself in this way has skeletons in its closet. I fear that at some point they may harm me at a time when the world would have forgotten about me because this is a regime that sees shadows everywhere around it,” Moyo added.

The journalist’s trial resumed at the Bulawayo Magistrate’s Court last week after the state rejected a request to dismiss his case earlier this year. The trial began in the week the world observed World Press Freedom Day.

Moyo was charged with contravening a section of the Immigration Law and producing false media accreditation cards for New York Times journalists. The defense had requested that the case be dismissed stating that the State’s case against Moyo was based on “unstable grounds”, but a Bulawayo magistrate ruled that the State had sufficient evidence against Moyo. The court tried to cross-examine Moyo and he chose to remain silent.

Moyo’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, told the court that her client chose to remain silent because the Magistrate had already discovered that the accreditation cards were fake without referring to any evidence on which the request for dismissal was based.

Mtetwa commented that whether or not Moyo testified, the magistrate had decided that the accreditation cards Moyo allegedly obtained for two foreign journalists were fake and wanted Moyo to implicate himself, which is illegal.

“He was not required to testify, and the Constitution says you have the right to remain silent, and even trying to question someone who has said ‘I want to remain silent,’ to me, is an exercise in futility. If he wants to convict him, let him convict him based on the evidence brought by the state, which he (the magistrate) completely ignored in his ruling,” Mtetwa told IPS.

Moyo has pleaded not guilty and will be sentenced on May 31, 2022.

Zimbabwe has enshrined press freedom in its constitution, but media advocacy groups say freedom is not guaranteed.

The media rights advocacy group, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe, recorded at least 27 violations in 2021, down from 52 the previous year.

“When the Constitution is violated, especially by the police who are supposed to be enforcing the law, then there is a challenge… to enforce the constitution,” said Tabani Moyo, executive director of MISA Zimbabwe. She added that there was a need for continued consultation with law enforcement agencies in Zimbabwe to devise workable interventions to prevent harassment of journalists.

More rhetoric, less reforms

Despite the government’s commitment to promoting press freedom and freedom of expression, the continued harassment of journalists and the gagging of critics tell a different story.

The arsenal of punitive laws designed to restrict the fundamental rights of free expression and association are aimed at repression rather than the freedom advocated by the Zimbabwean government.

For example, Zimbabwe repealed the draconian Information Access and Privacy Act (AIPPA). However, journalists continue to be harassed and threatened, casting a shadow over the Zimbabwean government’s commitment to freedom of expression.

“We no longer have serious cases where journalists are harassed, beaten or killed in this country. What we have is a strong exchange of ideas with journalists,” Zimbabwe’s Deputy Minister for Information Services, Advertising and Broadcasting, Kindness Paradza, said at a World Press Freedom Day commemoration event in Bulawayo last week.

“There is much to celebrate in Zimbabwe because we have done away with the AIPPA, which was a bad law. In its place, we have put the Freedom of Information Act, the Zimbabwe Media Commission Act,” Paradza said. He added that Zimbabwe’s media professionals bill is also up for grabs.

The World Press Freedom Index notes that there has been an opening of the media landscape in African countries such as Angola, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, which dropped seven points in the Index ranking, from 130 in 2021 to 137 in 2022.

“The media situation in Zimbabwe has improved slightly since the ouster of dictator Robert Mugabe in 2017. Access to information has increased and self-censorship has decreased,” the Index observed in an analysis of the Zimbabwean press.

The Index noted that while levels of violence against journalists have dropped significantly under the Mnangagwa administration, they remain alarmingly high and self-censorship is routinely practiced to prevent reprisals.

“Acts of intimidation, verbal attacks and threats (especially on social networks) are still common practice. However, cases of jailed and prosecuted journalists are now rarer, with the most notable case being that of Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist who spent nearly a month and a half in prison in 2020,” according to the World Index. of Freedom of the Press.

Extremely harsh laws are still in place and, when new laws have been adopted, their provisions are just as draconian as those they replaced, the Index noted, citing that the amended criminal code, the Official Secrets Act and the new Cyber ​​and Data Security Act Protection Act continue to cripple journalism in Zimbabwe.

Commenting on press freedom in Zimbabwe, Mtetwa said the government points to the right but turns to the left. He explained that what the government says about complying with the niceties of the law and being seen as complying with international best practice is different from what is happening on the ground.

“We have had many, many journalists arrested under the second republic. Why is this happening? They are abusing the criminal justice system to harass journalists,” Mtetwa told IPS.

“They arrest you and look for something in the criminal law, knowing that there is no case. You’ve seen the Hopewell Chin’ono cases,” she says. Two of the cases against Chin’ono have been dismissed, but one case is still pending a trial date. He denies the charges.

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© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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