By Alex Bell
01 December 2010
The editor of the weekly Standard newspaper, who handed himself over to police this week was officially arrested on Tuesday and formally charged, as the clampdown on the media across the country continues to intensify.
Police had tried to arrest Nevanji Madanhire on Monday, but the editor wasn’t at his offices and immediately went into hiding. He was however convinced to hand himself over to police on Tuesday, in the presence of his lawyer. He was then officially arrested and charged with breaching Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which deals with publication of falsehoods prejudicial to the state. Madanhire was detained overnight at Rhodesville Police Station in Harare.
The charges arise from a story written by The Standard’s Bulawayo journalist, Nqobani Ndlovu, on the postponement of police promotional examinations, and the recruitment of war vets into the force. Ndlovu was arrested last month and is facing similar charges. He was only released from custody last week after spending nine days at Khami Remand Prison.
Media rights groups have reacted with anger to this clamp down on the still heavily restricted media in the country. MISA-Zimbabwe Chairperson, Loughty Dube, condemned the continued harassment of journalists saying: “We want journalists to be allowed to go about their work without being harassed and intimidated and we call upon the police to allow journalists to go about their work without fear.”
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) President, Dumisani Sibanda, meanwhile said the police force was a state institution which should be prepared to face scrutiny in its activities.
“We journalists are watchdogs of society and we will not be deterred. Journalists should continue to discharge their duties professionally, without fear or favour,” said Sibanda. “Police should concentrate on fighting crime and arresting criminals instead of following up professionals doing their duties. We will not be intimidated and we will continue to expose social ills.”
At the same time Reporters Without Borders said on Wednesday it is “very disturbed” by Madanhire’s arrest, and called for his immediate release. The press freedom group said in a statement that it condemns “the threatening methods being used by the police and the climate of fear they have created for Zimbabwean journalists.”
“We regret that freedom of opinion is being gagged in this manner in the run-up to next year’s elections and at a time when Robert Mugabe has made it clear he wants to put an end to the coalition government,” the statement read.
Reporters Without Borders also raised concern that police have been combing rural areas and seizing shortwave radios, used by exiled stations like SW Radio Africa to bring independent information to the people. The group said it “firmly condemns the use of such methods to censor information and restrict individual freedom. They must stop at once, and the sets must be returned to their owners.”
Five homes in Bikita West were raided last week and radio sets were seized. MDC supporters Norbert Chinyike and Charles Mhizha were arrested after radio sets were found in their possession. They were later released without being charged. Shortly before that, police searched the offices of the NGO Democratic Councils Forum in Gweru and arrested an employee after discovering radio sets that were awaiting distribution in the countryside.
“We condemn this large-scale censorship campaign being carried out in rural areas of the country where access to news is already limited and where the authorities deliberately try to keep the media presence to a minimum,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said.
“These measures are designed to limit the population’s access to freely-reported news and to ensure that the views expressed by pro-government media are not challenged by the views of independent and opposition media,” Julliard added. “This is an attack on media diversity.”