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ZLHR deplores renewed onslaught against journalists
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

June 30, 2011

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) deplores the unbecoming behaviour and conduct of the police in arresting two journalists working for the privately-run Standard newspaper.

Standard Editor Nevanji Madanhire, journalist Patience Nyangove and company representative Loud Ramakgapola were arrested by the police on Wednesday 29 June 2011 and charged with criminal defamation for allegedly contravening Section 96 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and contravening Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly publishing false statements prejudicial to the State.

The arrest of media practitioners does not only undermine the right to freedom of expression of citizens but undermines the ability of media practitioners to carry out their duties fearlessly.

ZLHR believes that the arrest of the journalists has been instituted with the only apparent aim of harassing journalists and has the potential effect of intimidating journalists from investigating allegations against the police and those who consider themselves to be untouchables in the country.

ZLHR is increasingly worried that those bent on silencing dissent continue to resort to the use and abuse and find comfort in antiquated weapons such as defamation laws. Such laws exist solely to brow beat media practitioners from criticizing those who consider themselves immune from criticism.

The persecution of media personnel can only be considered as an attempt to block and silence scrutiny from journalists ahead of elections as some members of the coalition government are already in election mode.

The arrest of Madanhire and Nyangove demonstrates that there still remain some elements within the transitional coalition government who are dead set against the overhaul of the media despite promises of reforms at the formation of the coalition government two years ago. It also underscores the urgent need to reform the security sector as enunciated in the Global Political Agreement as the sector continue to be a law unto itself.

The police and the coalition government should stop the harassment of journalists and guarantee their safety in executing their professional duties.

Criminal defamation is not something which Zimbabwe needs in its statutory books. There exist enough remedies such as the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, a body which can resolve any complaints without instituting uncalled for criminal charges against journalists.

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