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Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa sends an urgent appeal to president Mugabe
March 20, 2007

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Adv. Pansy Tlakula, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights has sent an urgent letter of appeal to President Mugabe regarding the deteriorating situation of Freedom of Expression in Zimbabwe.

Tlakula sent the letter following a complaint that she received from the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe) and the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) whilst visiting Zimbabwe at the end of last week. The complaint relates to the assault, unlawful detention, harassment and detention of a number of journalists and media practitioners.

According to the complaint "journalists, Tsvangirai Mukwazhi and Tendai Musiyazviriyo were severely assaulted by the police following their arrest on 11 March 2007 when the police disrupted a national prayer day in Highfield that had been organized under the auspices of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. Of great concern was that Mukwazhi’s whereabouts remained unknown until his appearance in court on 13 March 2007 as the police withheld information about his whereabouts to his lawyers who were denied access to the detained journalists. The two journalists were subsequently taken to hospital for treatment following the assaults. To date they have not been formally charged despite having spent 48 hours in police custody".

"I actually met Tsvangirai Mukwazhi during my visit and I saw with my own eyes the serious injuries he sustained on his back during the beating by the police. Not only was he in pain but was also traumatised by the experience. His eyes were full of tears as he was narrating to me the incidents of the 11 March. His car, equipment and laptop were also confiscated by the police," Tlakula said.

Tlakula says she also brought to President Mugabe’s attention the complaints of three other journalists who were arrested last year whilst conducting their lawful duties as journalists.

She has called upon President Mugabe to respect the rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a State Party, in particular Article 9 of the Charter which guarantees every individual’s right to receive information and express and disseminate their opinions within the law and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression in Africa which states that "freedom of expression and information, including the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other form of communication, including across frontiers, is a fundamental and inalienable human right and an indispensable component of democracy."

"There seem to be a consistent and worrying trend developing in some parts of the continent where Freedom of Expression is under attack. Initially this attack used to take the form of either undue restriction or outright ban of the private media in particular. Recently we are seeing an increase in the incidents of arrests, unlawful detention, assault, harassment, disappearances, death in detention and murder of journalists and media practitioners in countries that are member states to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. These heinous acts are sadly perpetrated against journalists while conducting their lawful duties. The Gambia, Eritrea and Zimbabwe are a few cases in point", Tlakula said.

Tlakula has called upon President Mugabe to ensure that his government upholds the rule of law and desists from wanton arrest and torture of journalists.

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