Increased Press Freedom Violation in Zimbabwe during COVID-19 lockdown worries expert

Written by: 
Rehema Namagembe and Shamim Amutuhire

A Zimbabwean media expert has expressed fear over the increased violation of press freedom during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Methu Moyo a media expert and lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology has expressed concern that the COVID-19 lockdown resulted into severe threats and pressures on press freedom. There were several cases of violation of press freedom violation in Zimbabwe. A number of journalists were arrested, charged and harassed during the lock down.

“Initially journalists were not classified as essential workers in the lockdown and were arrested or prevented from exercising their job until the Ministry Of Information intervened,” he said.

In May 2020, the Minister Of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Monica Mutsvangwa, recognized the role of media in the dissemination of information during the lock down and requested law enforcers to allow journalists operate .However, other Government departments ignored her call to recognize journalists as essential workers. The undermining of journalists led to the police and other officials harassing journalists and violating their press freedom.

Moreover, the government tends to associate freedom of expression, especially the use of social media, with misinformation. A case in point is a voice note that went viral recently on WhatsApp where Vice President Constantine Chiwanga warned that “there is going to be a very serious war in Zimbabwe” resulting from misinformation and disinformation.

Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist and human rights defender, was arrested in July 2020 and imprisoned for six weeks for a tweet about an anti-corruption demonstration. The tweet came after exposing an alleged case of corruption involving the former Minister of Health, Obadiah Moyo, for awarding contracts to pharmaceutical companies selling COVID-19 medical supplies at inflated prices. This story also resulted into the dismissal of the health minister.  

The high court of Zimbabwe urged police to stop harassing journalists during the lockdown, but this order was also not heeded to.

In July 2020 the army and state agents raided the home of another investigative journalist, Mduduzi Mathuthu, in Bulawayo on suspicions of a planned demonstration against corruption in government.

Nyathi Khalwani a journalist of cultural press freedom and an editor of the weekly newspaper The Standard, informed the International Press Institute (IPI) that at least two employees of The Standard had been detained for allegedly defying lockdown regulations. "This affects the morale of reporters and quality of their journalism," Nyathi told IPI.

In April 2020, the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe branch also cautioned police to stop harassing journalists during the COVID-19 lockdown because the harassments violated press freedom.

A 2020 Human rights Watch report indicated that Zimbabwe was a top freedom violator in Africa following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.