Zimbabwe: President Mnangagwa doesn’t have the right to shut down the internet


Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 23 January 2019 (Credit: World Economic Forum)

Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa at the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 2018 (Credit: World Economic Forum)

Zimbabwe’s president Emmerson Mnangagwa tweeted on 20 January that “in light of the economic situation” he would be cutting short his “highly productive” European junket to return home. This wasn’t the whole story. What forced him to come back early was a crisis precipitated by the steep fuel price hike he announced on 12 January just before he flew off.

Many people first heard of the increase via social media, and the initial calls to protest came online from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Peter Mutasa and #ThisFlag activist Evan Mawarire, who was shortlisted for the 2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, who was released on bail on Wednesday 30 January. Mawarire is facing charges of treason related to a three-day strike that began on 14 January to protest the price hike.

Things immediately turned violent, with looting and arson causing millions of dollars worth of damage and clashes with police and military, responding with the brutality they are renowned for, leaving hundreds injured and an estimated 12 people dead. Those arrested face “assault, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment“.

Following the protests, Zimbabwe’s government forced a “total internet shutdown” from 15-17 January, with a brief restoration on 16 January. No one anticipated that the government would block the entire internet. Internet service providers only told their customers of the shutdown after Energy Mutodi, the deputy minister of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, spun it to Zimbabweans on national television that the internet was “slow” because it was “congested”.

On 21 January judge Owen Tagu in Zimbabwe’s high court, following an urgent appeal by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa challenging the disruptions, ruled that the government exceeded its mandate in ordering the internet blackout during the protests.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa argued that the state security minister who issued the directive for the shutdowns had no authority to do so. Tagu concurred.

Until the restoration of the internet, Zimbabweans still couldn’t access Whatsapp, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter without a virtual private network.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Media Institute of Southern Africa do not rule out another court hearing as Zimbabwe’s Interception of Communications Act “provides for the lawful interception and monitoring of certain communications in the course of their transmission through a telecommunication, postal or any other related service or system in Zimbabwe; to provide for the establishment of a monitoring centre; and to provide for any other matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing”.

Only the president has the power to issue a directive for the interception of anybody’s communications. However, as Denford Halimani, one of the lawyers for the applicants, told Index on Censorship, not even the president can shut down the internet: “The act does not give him that power. If parliament had intended to give him that power it would have said in addition to intercepting you can also shut down the internet for everyone.”

The internet has been integral to recent events in Zimbabwe, which may explain the government’s current nervousness. The military and those behind the November 2017 coup used social media to call on citizens to march in support of Mnangagwa. Thousands heeded the call and possibly helped persuade Mugabe, who had until then stubbornly refused to step down, to go.

Social media, specifically Whatsapp, was the medium of choice for disseminating information on the January 2018 strike and on what was going on in various parts of the country.

Mnangagwa may have missed the irony that when he made his announcement to return home on Twitter, but Zimbabwean Twitter users did not. Simbabrashe Chirara responded in Shona, the most widely spoken language in Zimbabwe: “The internet is blocked so who are you talking to, comrade?” With the widespread use of VPN’s, as recommended by the tech-savvy, many Zimbabweans are seemingly unfazed by the social media blackout.

Others wondered why he was talking about the “economic situation” without addressing the issue of those killed by the security forces. When gruesome footage of an attack on a protester by security officials featured in a Sky News report, Mnangagwa could no longer remain silent on the matter. In a statement on 28 January, the president expressed how “appalled” he was, adding that he has ordered the arrest of those behind it.

With the ongoing violence, questions are now being asked as to whether Mnangagwa’s has control over the country, with many believing that Zimbabwe is effectively a military state.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1549984748531-9fde297e-f33f-1″ taxonomies=”173″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Zimbabwe must release Evan Mawarire and drop all charges

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Index on Censorship calls for the dropping of all charges and immediate release of activist Evan Mawarire, who was arrested in Zimbabwe on Wednesday and accused of treason on Thursday.

Police arrested Mawarire at his home on Wednesday morning as protests against soaring fuel prices entered their third day. On Thursday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that Mawarire had been charged with subverting a constitutional government in connection with a video he issued earlier in the week urging people to stay away from work and insisting that protests remain peaceful. Mawarire was initially charged with inciting violence.

Several people have been killed and hundreds arrested in the protests. Internet access has been suspended by mobile networks on government orders.

Mawarire ignited one of the most important protest movements in Zimbabwe’s recent history in 2016 when he posted a video of himself draped in the Zimbabwean flag and voiced his frustration at the state of the nation. He has since become known worldwide as a vocal and prominent critic of the government.

Mawarire’s #ThisFlag videos and hashtag protesting against the then president Robert Mugabe and his government went viral in 2016, sparking protests and a boycott attended by over an estimated eight million people. Mr Mugabe resigned in 2017 following a military takeover and mass demonstrations. President Emmerson Mnangagwa came into power on the promise of change but he has been accused of failing to live up to his promises,  with Zimbabweans suffering rocketing inflation and a decline in living standards.

Mawarire was previously arrested in the aftermath of the original #ThisFlag videos, when he was charged with inciting public disorder. The prosecution then added the more severe charge of subversion on the day of his trial without notifying his legal team. During his trial, a magistrate judge ruled that it was unconstitutional for the prosecution to bring new charges in court and acquitted Mawarire of all charges.

“I had the immense good fortune to meet Evan at a conference in Australia last year,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “He spoke movingly and with great humility about his passion for Zimbabwe and seeing reform of the country in his children’s lifetimes. Zimbabwe must show it is serious about change, and that means respecting the rights of those who criticise the government and who, like Evan, advocate change through peaceful means.”

Evan Mawarire was shortlisted for the 2017 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards. Alp Toker, a 2017 Freedom of Expression Award winner in the digital activism category and whose organisation monitors internet shutdowns worldwide expressed concern at attempts to limit information being shared in Zimbabwe: “NetBlocks measurements present clear evidence of a targeted and intentional effort to disrupt lines of communication in Zimbabwe. Attempts to curtail the free flow of information impede and do not assist justice. We call on the state to respect the constitutional right to free opinion and expression of its citizens.”[/vc_column_text][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1547741087906-88e96647-d3c5-1″ taxonomies=”9018″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Project Exile: Zimbabwean broadcaster grapples with post-Mugabe era

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]This article is part of Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist’s Project Exile series, which has published interviews with exiled journalists from around the world.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”100854″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]Georgina Godwin grew up in a country at war.

Born to a liberal white family in what was then Rhodesia in the late 1960s, she lived through an era of atrocities as the white-minority government of President Ian Smith battled rebels from Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army. An older brother Peter, now a journalist and author, was conscripted to fight the rebels in the British South Africa Police. An older sister, Jain, was killed in 1978 when she and her fiancé drove into an army ambush.

After white-rule ended in 1980 and Mugabe won election as prime minister in what was now Zimbabwe, some whites left the country. Godwin stayed and became a well-known DJ on state-owned radio, later hosting the morning television program “AMZimbabwe” for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp.

By the late 1990s, that position was more and more uncomfortable. Mugabe’s government had become increasingly authoritarian and corrupt. An opposition movement led by trade unionists and backed by some whites began to grow, and Godwin felt herself increasingly drawn to opposition politics.”It felt irresponsible to be in a public position and not say or do anything,” Godwin says, in an interview with Global Journalist.

When a group of friends told her they planned to go to court to challenge the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp.’s monopoly of the country’s airwaves, she offered to help them start the country’s first independent radio station if they won.

In a surprise decision in 2000, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court allowed the station to go forward.

“While I was on air, getting the weather update, chatting about music, the phone call came through from the court – they have actually won the case,” she says. “I continued the show and at the end I signed off. I resigned on air and said ‘I’m really sorry, this will be my last broadcast with the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation.’ I couldn’t say where I was going next because it was a secret. At that point, we didn’t know really how we were going to set it up [the radio station] or what we were going to do.”

The short-lived Capital FM began broadcasting soon afterwards from a transmitter atop a hotel roof in Harare. Within a week, Mugabe, then president, issued decree closing the station, and soldiers raided Capital FM’s studio, destroying its equipment.

In 2001, Godwin moved to London, where the founders of Capital FM set up a station called SW Africa Radio to broadcast news and information back to Zimbabwe via shortwave. Zimbabwe’s government declared her and her colleagues “enemies of the state.”  Return trips to the country, where her elderly parents still lived, became increasingly nerve-wracking.

Godwin spent several years with SW Africa Radio before becoming a freelance journalist and working for a number of British news outlets. Currently, she is books editor for Monocle 24, the online radio station of Monocle magazine. She hosts the literary program “Meet the Writers” and frequently appears on Monocle 24’s current affairs shows.

Godwin spoke with Global Journalist’s Teodora Agarici about her exile from Zimbabwe and her feelings about the Zimbabwe military’s ouster of Mugabe last year. Below, an edited version of their interview:

Global Journalist: How difficult was it for you to adapt to life in the United Kingdom?

Godwin: Adapting has been really interesting. I look like the majority of British people, I’m white and I don’t have a particularly strong accent, so people look at me and they think I’m British.

But when I first arrived here, I had no understanding of how the underground network worked, the kind of cultural and historical things that people have all grown up watching on television, not even the huge class divide that you find here.

I think, particularly after Brexit, I’m very aware of the fact that I am not British, but I am a Londoner. Being in London means that we’re part of the city, but that doesn’t mean we’re British and certainly doesn’t mean that we’re part of the people who chose to really turn inward and reject the rest of the world as they did with the Brexit vote.

GJ: How do you assess press freedom in Zimbabwe now?

Godwin: Some of the old people who were writing very brave stories, they’re still carrying on.  We need to salute those people who did it through the bad times when newspaper offices were being bombed, when journalists were being disappeared and beaten up.

I think it’s easier now and people do feel more emboldened to speak out and say what is going on.  I’d be very interested to see in the run-up to the [July 2018] election how much they are actually allowed to say, but I think that there are some incredible journalists and correspondents doing excellent work at some cost to themselves.

As for how foreign media covers Zimbabwe, people do have a genuine choice. The internet exists, independent newspapers are publishing, and then there are all the international stations like al-Jazeera, the BBC and South African stations.

GJ: Mugabe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa is now president. He was minister of state security in the 1980s, when the security services killed up to 20,000 civilians. Do you think it’s safe for you to return now?

Godwin: I’d been there twice since I left, both times under a different passport that I no longer have access to. Because I was on television, it doesn’t really matter what names are in your passport. People recognise you from TV.

You’re basically relying on the goodwill of the immigration officer and you just have to hope that he’s not somebody that was aware of what you’ve done before or if they were aware, it was something that they approved of.

As my brother writes in one of his memoirs, he went in and the immigration officer asked, “Are you related to Georgina?”

I think he tried not to reply, but the officer quietly said, “Please tell her we listen to her every day.”

The question is now, under the change of government, would I be welcome? I’m still being outspoken about what I think. I have no personal animosity towards [President] Emmerson Mnangagwa, but I do believe what was done under his watch was absolutely criminal. It was genocide.

I’m not sure  that he would welcome me into what is effectively his country at this point. But I have such wonderful optimism for the country. We’re at a time now where Zimbabweans have a real choice and I hope that what they do is not dictated by history and they don’t just vote because they’ve always been for [the ruling party] ZANU–PF.

The next generation has got something to offer and take us in a different direction. So many Zimbabweans have been suffering under the regime and finally, everybody can enjoy the fruits of the labour, of the people who fought so hard, not just the journalists, not just my colleagues, but all of the everyday people who have just fought so hard  against the the deep, uncaring corruption and the people that are in charge of them.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.

Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook). We’ll send you our weekly newsletter, our monthly events update and periodic updates about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share, sell or transfer your personal information to anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″]

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#IndexAwards2018: Silvanos Mudzvova’s performances protest Zimbabwe regime

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/YgtBa8yoc80″][vc_column_text]Zimbabwean performance artist and activist Silvanos Mudzvova uses theatre to protest against the repressive regime of former president Robert Mugabe and to agitate for greater democracy and LGBT rights. 2018 Freedom of Expression Awards link

“Artists in Zimbabwe have a lot of fear and only artists who support the regime can openly critique freely,” Mudzvova says. “However, I have started a revolution, where so many artists are producing resistance art works. I have managed to employ fellow artists to openly condemn the Mugabe regime leading to the term ‘arts activism’ becoming popular in Zimbabwe.”

Many of Mudzvova’s recent works in Zimbabwe have involved “guerrilla” theatre. He has specialised in performing “hit-and-run” actions in public places to grab the attention of politicians and defy censorship laws which forbid public performances without police clearance.

Mudzvova has been abducted, beaten and arrested for his work. In April 2016, he put on a one-man play outside the country’s parliament. The play, Missing Diamonds, I Need My Share, was inspired by the controversy surrounding Mugabe’s admission that the country lost $15 billion to diamond companies without any legal consequences. Mudzvova was arrested as a result. In September 2016, Mudzvova was abducted from his home, beaten and left for dead for participating in the Tajamuka (We Are Rising Up) protest group.

Mudzova has been vocal about the recent political change in Zimbabwe, stating that the new government should “engage the international community and rebuild relations and above all end corruption and improve the human rights situation. He should work with opposition to create an environment conducive for free and fair elections.”

His play In Chains has been replicated in several anti-government demonstrations in Zimbabwe and across the world by Zimbabweans as a creative protest against the regime. And Mudzova himself has continued to use his position as a prominent theatre activist to post videos on his Facebook site BhanditTV.

“The nomination motives me to work extra hard for the removal of censorship laws and it has given exposure to my profile as a human rights defender,” he told Index on Censorship. “This also improves my personal security from the junta government as they now know the world is watching.”

See the full shortlist for Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2018 here.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content” equal_height=”yes” el_class=”text_white” css=”.vc_custom_1490258749071{background-color: #cb3000 !important;}”][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_custom_heading text=”Support the Index Fellowship.” font_container=”tag:p|font_size:28|text_align:center” use_theme_fonts=”yes” link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indexoncensorship.org%2Fsupport-the-freedom-of-expression-awards%2F|||”][vc_column_text]

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