The Zimbabwean government has issued an arrest warrant for exiled editor Wilf Mbanga. Here he describes the charge against him and the dire state of free expression in Zimbabwe
As Zimbabwe limps towards elections slated for June next year, the government is becoming increasingly paranoid about criticism from independent media.
It is apparent that Zanu (PF) has begun once again to unroll the apparatus of violence in preparation for polls in 2011. The partisan police force has resorted to manufacturing charges against journalists in an attempt to silence them.
The state media recently carried announcements from the police spokesman, Andrew Phiri, that a warrant had been obtained for my arrest and that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) was on a “manhunt for Mbanga – believed to reside in the UK”. My telephone number and email address are published in every issue of the paper and I have made no secret of the fact that I am in self-imposed exile in the UK! Phiri has subsequently stated that the ZRP have asked Interpol to assist in “apprehending Mbanga”.
He claims that the issue of 11-17 December 2008 “published falsehoods” by claiming that there was a meeting attended by Mugabe, Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa, the spy agency boss Happyton Bonyongwe and former ZEC chairperson George Chiweshe where it was agreed to eliminate Polling Director, Ignatius Mushangwe.
This story was never published by The Zimbabwean, it was actually published in a private Zimbabwean online newspaper.
“Publishing falsehoods” is a crime under the draconian and mis-named Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act — AIPPA — that demands the registration and licensing by the state-controlled Media and Information Commission of all newspapers, media outlets and journalists. In its first two years, the MIC closed down five independent newspapers. Hundreds of journalists were arrested and many beaten — not one conviction was secured.
The Committee to Protect Journalists last night (11.11.10) stated: “We condemn the police warrant against Wilf Mbanga as a form of intimidation distracting from the unsolved slaying of Ignatius Mushangwe. We call on the power-sharing government to move forward by implementing promised media reforms, ones that are essential to a credible election in 2011.”
Other recent incidents include:
– Freelance journalists in Mutare were manhandled by party thugs last week and accused of “writing bad things” about Robert Mugabe and Zanu (PF).
– Another journalist had his tape recorder and cell phone taken by self-proclaimed “secret agents” who threatened to kill him if he did not respect Mugabe as “life president”.
– Freelancer Sydney Saize, was severely beaten up and injured while attending a Zanu (PF) fundraising function last week. He lost his money amounting to US$30, his press card, a mobile phone and his reporting equipment during the process and is currently receiving medical treatment. Saize made a police report and the Manicaland police spokesperson, Brain Makomeke, confirmed the report.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) and the Southern Africa Journalists Association (SAJA) have condemned the increasing threats against journalists in Zimbabwe.
“As we approach emotive events such as the anticipated referendum and elections, we call on all political parties and organised groups to allow journalists to do their work professionally without hindrance” said Foster Dongozi, ZUJ General Secretary and SAJA President.
In the past the authorities, desperate to maintain the news blackout, have resorted to the catch-all “criminal nuisance” charge in some cases; and even invented the ludicrous charge of “committing journalism”.
Since its power began to wane in the late 1990s, Zanu (PF) has seen the independent media as its enemy.
Not only independent journalists operate in a constant climate of threats and fear. State editors and reporters, too, live in constant terror of the chop – and worse.
Before, during and after both 2008 polls, the state-controlled media went into overdrive – its ham-fisted spin and sickeningly blatant deception would have been laughable had it not been so tragic.
And if early indications are anything to go by, the 2011 elections will see similar, if not worse, horror. These pre-emptive strikes against independent journalists are the first, familiar, salvo.
Wilf Mbanga is the founder of The Zimbabwean and its Sunday sister, which he has edited and published from the UK since January 2005. The newspaper circulates widely in Southern Africa and Zimbabwe as well as in the UK. The full contents are available free on www.thezimbabwean.co.uk