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violence, torture and beatings
Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ)
Media Update 2007-10
Monday March 12th 2007 - Sunday March 18th 2007
distortions and conspiracies characterized government media's
coverage of the violence that erupted following the crushing of
Zimbabwe Campaign's Highfield prayer meeting and the subsequent
world reaction to the matter. For instance, they continued to reproduce
distorted police accounts of the circumstances leading to the violence,
which dishonestly depicted the law enforcement agents and civilians
as targets of mindless opposition violence.
against this background that ZBC and the official Press gave prominence
to police victims of the alleged MDC violence while simultaneously
suffocating the brutal beatings of opposition leaders at police
stations and the extent of the injuries they sustained. For example,
during the week The Herald carried nine front-page stories
portraying the MDC as the instigators of the violence. Pictures
of the police victims of the alleged violence accompanied some of
the stories. These included those of two badly burnt policewomen
whose house at Marimba Police Station was allegedly petrol bombed
by "suspected MDC supporters".
some of the police claims on incidents of alleged MDC violence -
which The Herald (15/3) catalogued - the official
papers carried 21 opinion pieces and nine cartoons that reinforced
the authorities' vilification of the opposition as inherently
violent. Notably, all the official media reports on the alleged
"orgy of violence" by the MDC only relied
on police accounts of the events and ignored opposition and independent
But while the
government Press amplified officials' accusations against
the MDC, they censored the scale of police brutality against opposition
and civic leaders as well as general members of the public. The
Herald (14/3), for example, drowned the fact that the opposition
leaders were badly beaten while in police detention in a small story
on their first court appearance. Even then, it cursorily referred
to the matter in the context of the State's concession that
the injured leaders required medical attention. Although it carried
a big picture of the detained opposition activists, it depicted
them in good health. The picture was juxtaposed to the paper's
lead story that presented the alleged MDC's "escalating
violent campaign" as part of a "desperate"
effort by Britain and the US to "bring
Zimbabwe before the UN".
determination to project the MDC as violent resulted in it maintaining
(17/3) that a pregnant woman had suffered a "miscarriage"
after MDC youths attacked a bus in which she was travelling. This
was despite the fact that the woman had earlier appeared on ZTV
(13/3, 8pm) denying this, saying a doctor had in fact certified
"the (unborn) child" as "okay".
ZBC also drowned
the severe beating of the opposition leaders in police detention
in stories that portrayed the MDC as unruly. For example, it was
only three days after the beatings that ZTV (14/3, 8pm) carried
brief footage of the so-called "deemed injured"
opposition leaders alighting from a police truck during their first
Instead of explaining
how the leaders got injured, the station sought to cover up for
the police by vaguely claiming that the injuries were a result of
the leaders' "heavy brush with the law enforcement
agents after resisting arrest". The broadcaster,
and indeed the government Press, then swamped their audiences with
official justification of the police brutality.
The Herald (13/3) reported Home Affairs Minister Kembo
Mohadi saying the opposition had violated a government ban on rallies
therefore "provoking" the
authorities. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena expressed similar
sentiments, saying the police will take "proportionate"
measures against the MDC's "militia-style
attacks" (The Herald 15/3).
the government media suffocated regional and international community's
outrage over the beatings. They only reported them in the form of
official conspiracies in which they accused the West of colluding
with the opposition to oust the government.
It was in this
context that ZBC (15/3, 8pm), The Herald and Chronicle
(16/3) suffocated the purpose of the visit by Tanzanian leader
and SADC chairman on politics, defence and security, Jikaya Kikwete,
with President Mugabe telling members of the international community
who raised concerns over the police's heavy-handedness to
ZTV (16/3, 8pm) and the official dailies (17/3) question the implications
of Mugabe's threats to "arrest and bash"
opposition protesters and "kick out"
Western diplomats critical of his rule. Nor did they question his
claims that "the police have a right to bash"
protesters or discuss the implications of his calls to ensure the
police are "well armed" to
counter "threats (of violence by the opposition)".
simply presented his statements as normal.
Only the private
media captured the circumstances that sparked the Harare violence
and the extent of the police brutality against the opposition and
civic activists through graphic pictures, victims' testimonies
and doctors' assessment of the injuries. They also reported
extensively on the ill- treatment the victims of the police brutality
received after the beatings, which included being denied food and
medical attention during their two-day detention in police cells.
For example, these media exposed how the victims' lawyers
were prevented from accessing their clients and only managed to
have them released for a remand court hearing through an urgent
High Court application.
They also reported
on the widespread police purge of civic activists in various urban
centres. The Zimbabwe Independent (16/3), for example,
carried a round-up of these abuses and recorded six incidents of
police arrests and harassment of opposition, labour and student
activists in Harare, Gweru, Kwekwe and Mutare. Notably, although
the official media only mentioned the killing of MDC activist Gift
Tandare by the police during clashes in Highfield, Studio 7 and
SW Radio Africa (14/3) revealed the further beating and shooting
of mourners at the activist's funeral wake by suspected state
security agents. Studio 7 reported the injured as five, while SW
Radio Africa put them at two.
In fact, the
private media reported commentators contradicting the projection
by government officials that the assaults on MDC and civic leaders
were justified by citing international conventions outlawing the
torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. SW Radio Africa, (12/3)
for instance, reported retired Senior Assistant Police Commissioner
Jonathan Chawara alleging the police were not following the "three
golden rules" in the use of deadly weapons against
"unarmed civilians". The rules, he said,
stipulated that police should not use firearms if they can achieve
the objectives through other means; should not use firearms when
in doubt; and should never use a firearm once an objective has been
Not only did
the private media highlight police violence against the MDC and
civilians, they also reported on the alleged petrol bomb attacks
by suspected MDC activists on a police station in Gweru and a Marimba
Police camp house (New Zimbabwe and Zimbabwe Times
16/3). They also gave publicity to regional and worldwide condemnation
of the police brutality and government's reaction to the criticism.
However, none of the media adequately covered the Save Zimbabwe
Campaign's Press conference in which the MDC factions pledged
to contest the 2008 elections as a united front.
briefly referred to the matter (16 & 17/3) while The Sunday
Mail mentioned it in the context of its attempts to project
the MDC and its "Western backers"
as having been "thrown into panic mode"
by Mugabe's announcement that he was ready to
stand in the 2008 elections.
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