Reporters Without Borders called today for an independent investigation into the death of freelance cameraman Edward Chikomba, a former employee of the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Holdings (ZBH), who was found dead on 31 March, two days after being kidnapped in Harare by men suspected of being members of the intelligence services.
“We are utterly dismayed by this murder, which comes at a critical time for independent journalists because, after years of harassment, they are now being subjected to extreme violence,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“This appalling crime must not go unpunished,” the press freedom organisation continued. “As the police do not have the required credibility to conduct a serious investigation, we call on those presidents who still maintain a dialogue with President Robert Mugabe to make him realise that it would be inexplicable and dangerous if those who are responsible for Chikomba’s death are not clearly identified and punished. Only an independent third party is capable of establishing the facts in Zimbabwe today.”
Chikomba, who also ran a stall outside his home in the working-class suburb of Glen View, was kidnapped by four men, who stopped and initially asked if they could buy some beverages. Forced at gunpoint to get into their white 4WD vehicle, he was found dead at Darwendale (60 km west of Harare) on 31 March. Since then, his body has been at the morgue in Chinhoyi, 115 km west of the capital.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (the leading organisation of its kind in Zimbabwe) quoted one of his relatives as saying he tried to pull Chikomba back as he was being bundled into the vehicle, but the abductors hit him with the butts of their guns. The relative said the vehicle was found at Mapinga, near Banket (80 km west of Harare).
One of Chikomba’s former colleagues said Chikomba was accused of providing the international media with video footage showing opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with his face badly swollen after being beaten while in custody. The same source said Chikomba was a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
A Harare-based journalist told Reporters Without Borders: “He was undoubtedly targeted because he was known as a cameraman.” After leaving the production team of “Vision 30,” a programme broadcast by ZBH until 2001, Chikomba continued to work as a freelance cameraman for individuals or news organisations.
Footage of Tsvangirai with his battered face as he left a courthouse to go to hospital was shot by several news media including Mighty Movies Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd, a leading Zimbabwean production company that provided its footage to foreign TV stations and news agencies.
Many opposition members, human rights activists and journalists have been arrested by the intelligence services in similar circumstances in recent weeks. Gift Phiri, a contributor to the London-based weekly The Zimbabwean, has been held since 1 April on a charge of practising journalism illegally.
Luke Tamborinyoka, the former editor of the now-defunct Daily News, was hospitalised on the orders of a Harare court on 30 March after losing consciousness during his trial. He had been badly injured as a result of mistreatment while in police custody following his arrest along with 34 activists during a police raid on MDC headquarters on 28 March.