The Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (ZINEF) has strongly condemned the government over the recent arrest of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono describing his current incarceration as ‘bully tactics’.
The Forum said the arrests were legally baseless and meant to achieve nothing, but defaming the authorities’ reputation.
Last week, police arrested Chin’ono at his Harare home for allegedly publishing falsehoods or communicating false information prejudicial to the state.
Police also arrested senior MDC Alliance politicians, Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere on the same charge. The charges emanated from a widely circulated video on social media in which a police officer is seen quarrelling amid pushing and shoving with a group of people accusing him of striking and killing a baby with a baton.
However, in a statement ZINEF said Section 31 (a)(iii) of the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act used to arrest Chin’ono, Sikhala and Mahere had been repealed.
“This clearly means Chin’ono’s arrest is arbitrary and has no foundation at law. Constitutionally and legally, he cannot be convicted on a law that does not exist and on something which is not an offence at law,” ZINEF said.
“This means the police’s case against Chin’ono has no legal basis at all, not just because the law was repealed as it was unconstitutional, but also because the state – as the Constitutional Court ruled – cannot appoint itself and arrogate itself powers of being a monitor of truth.”
ZINEF urged the government to cease behaving like an unruly class monitor – or bully – harassing journalists and citizens, prescribing to them what is truth, and not true.
It said the arbitrary arrests violated both regional and global conventions on freedom of the media and expression.
“There is nothing to be achieved and gained by arresting journalists and indeed citizens in general, except damaging the government’s reputation and making Zimbabwe appear like an authoritarian, rogue state. Together, we can make Zimbabwe a safe place for journalists to work in and a better nation for all to live in.”