Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Zimbabwe: freedom of speech, but no freedom after the speech


According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index of 2019, Zimbabwe ranked 158 out of 180 countries making it one of the most corrupt in the world.

“In Southern Africa, journalists and others working to expose corruption face an unacceptable level of risk,” Transparency International said in a statement last year.

The international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Zimbabwe number 126 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, making the southern African country one of the worst places to work as a journalist.

When Zimbabwe government spokesperson Nick Mangwana warned ominously last year that, “No one is above the law,” it only confirmed what many here have always feared: that the ruling Zanu PF party will not hesitate to arbitrary apply the law to silence critics.

Mangwana’s comments had come after the arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who was accused of using social media to foment public violence. Chin’ono was back behind bars on Jan. 8 on charges of posting “fake news” on Twitter. Soon after Chin’ono’s arrest, opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance (MDC-A) spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and Job Sikhala, an opposition legislator who also serves as a MDC-A vice chairperson, were also detained by the police for posting the same story Chin’ono had shared on social media.

The widely-shared story alleged that a police officer attempting to enforce COVID-19 restrictions had aimed his baton stick at a woman carrying a child, but fatally struck the child instead. According to reports, the child died on the spot. Police, however, dismissed the story as fake news despite video footage of the mother wailing that the police officer had killed her child. 

The arrests were immediately condemned by rights defenders with Amnesty International.

“The latest arrests are part of a growing crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other critical voices,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for southern Africa said. “Zimbabwean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release and drop the malicious charges against them,” Mwananyanda said.

has placed the spotlight back on Zimbabwe’s fragile press freedom, where critics say journalism has for years remained a dangerous occupation for a country not in a warzone. It has been particularly hazardous for investigative journalists in a country that makes regular appearances in global top rankings of corruption.

“I was jailed after exposing corruption,” Chin’ono wrote last year after his first arrest, which came after the authorities criticised the media for allegedly reporting falsehoods about members of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s family being involved in shady COVID-19 equipment procurement deals which prejudiced the country of millions of United States dollars.

Chin’ono’s exposé reportedly led to the firing of Zimbabwe’s health minister, yet it was to prove to be just the beginning of the investigative journalist’s brushes with the law for his work reporting corruption in high places.

“The onslaught on investigative journalists is part of the administration’s hostile campaign against human rights defenders,” Tawanda Majoni, an investigative journalist and National Coordinator of the Information for Development Trust, a local media NGO, explained. He added, “Media freedom campaigners have done a spirited job, but what they can achieve will always be severely limited in a repressive regime,

“Zimbabwe’s serious abuses of press freedom, free expression and the rights of government critics are worsening as the year begins,” Dewa Mavhinga, Human Rights Watch southern Africa director, said.

“We have a government that is driven by paranoia and doesn’t want to be held accountable,” Nqaba Matshazi, of the Media Institute for Southern African (MISA) – Zimbabwe chapter, pointed out.

“Journalists are being arrested for doing their job and our real challenge is that the arrests show an increase in the monitoring of journalists’ social media activity,” Roselyn Hanzi, executive director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who are representing Chin’ono and other journalists and citizens arrested under questionable charges, told IPS.

“Despite constitutional provisions, what is required are administrative reforms to weed out bad apples in the system and also human rights training for institutions that have become very partisan,” Hanzi stated.

“In Zimbabwe there is Freedom of Speech, but no Freedom After the Speech” | Inter Press Service (

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