Reporters Without Borders today deplored the arrest and beating by government supporters of radio journalists Shorai Katiwa and Martin Chimenya and called on the government to ensure the media could operate freely in Zimbabwe.
The two reporters, of the pirate radio station Voice of the People (VOP), were seized on 2 June by war veterans and young supporters of President Robert Mugabe’s African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) who interrogated them, took away their mobile phones and tape-recorders and beat them after accusing them of belonging to the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
They were then taken to a police station, where they admitted that they sent their reports from a computer at the home of VOP coordinator John Masuku. Police then went there and confiscated the computer and the station’s office records. They found nothing suspicious, so returned the items and freed the journalists.
Police on 3 June harassed two other journalists, Luke Tamborinyoka and Precious Shumba, both of The Daily News, the country’s only independent daily paper, and made them crawl on a hard surface.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard denounced the climate of repression and lawlessness in which independent journalists were obliged to work and called on Mugabe to investigate the attacks on the reporters and punish those responsible. "Journalists must be able to work in complete freedom and security," he said.
Zimbabwe is the most repressive country in Southern Africa towards the media. VOP is one of the only two radio stations to have got round the ban of privately-owned stations, by broadcasting on short-wave from the Netherlands. It is also one of the few independent media to reach the rural population since it broadcasts in the country’s two main languages, Shona and Ndebele. Its offices in Harare were attacked last August.
Reporters Without Borders also condemned last week’s destruction by government supporters of several thousand copies of The Daily News and three other independent papers, The Financial Gazette, The Standard and The Zimbabwe Independent. The Associated Newspapers Group (ANZ), which publishes The Daily News, said more than 2,500 copies of the paper had been destroyed on 2 June alone.
The organisation also deplored physical attacks on Daily News readers by ZANU-PF supporters and noted that section 20 of the Zimbabwean constitution guaranteed freedom of opinion and expression.