Zimbabwe: Press Freedom Falls Prey to Arrests And Torture
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Zimbabwe has warned journalists of an increasingly hostile working environment after the abduction and subsequent murder of a freelance reporter, and the arrest and torture of two other foreign correspondents. "The unlawful arrest and subsequent severe assault of photojournalist Tsvangirai Mukwazhi while in police custody on 11 March 2007, and that of Gift Phiri on 1 April 2007, behoves Zimbabwean journalists to be on high alert as they conduct their lawful and professional duties," MISA said in a statement.
Mukwazhi was arrested while covering a prayer meeting called by civic society organisations three weeks ago, when opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders were also detained. He was allegedly severely tortured while in police custody, despite having the requisite practicing certificate from the country's media regulatory authority, the Media and Information Commission (MIC). Phiri, an independent journalist who contributes to the British-based 'The Zimbabwean' newspaper, was also arrested last week and severely tortured. He was held in custody for nearly a week before being released but was subsequently charged with practicing without a license and "writing falsehoods".
Last week, Edward Chikomba, a cameraman previously with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the state broadcaster, was abducted from his home in Harare and later found murdered, his body dumped by the roadside near Darwendale, a township about 60km north of the capital, Harare. Many journalists believe Chikomba was murdered for allegedly transmitting the images of a bruised and battered Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of one of the factions of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), to the international media, a charge the police have strongly denied.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), which represents the interests of the majority of journalists, also expressed the fear that there was a deliberate government policy to harass and intimidate the media.