Zimbabwe arrests journalists covering attempted detention of MP

“THEThe Zimbabwean authorities must immediately drop all charges against journalists Blessed Mhlanga and Chengeto Chidi, as well as against [um transeunte] Moses Hakata, and let them work freely,” CPJ said in a statement.

Zimbabwean police arrested the two journalists last Saturday, the 7th, as they photographed officers attempting to arrest an opposition MP in the town of Chitungwiza, south of the capital, Harare.

Journalists were on hand to cover a story about water cuts in an area where local elections are scheduled.

Police ordered Mhlanga to stop recording the arrest of opposition MP Job Sikhala, and after the former identified himself as a journalist, an officer repeatedly punched him in the head, smashed his mobile phone and detained him, according to himself, who also shared a video of the incident on social media.

Police then detained Chengeto Chidi when the journalist went to the police van where Mhlanga was already being held to ask for the keys to his vehicle which the colleague had, she told CPJ.

Moses Hakata, a bystander who tried to dissuade the policeman from hitting Mhlanga, was also arrested, according to local media and Tapiwa Muchineripi, a lawyer representing the journalists, told CPJ.

Police detained Mhlanga and Chidi – both journalists from News Day, a private newspaper – at the central police station in Harare until last Monday, when they were taken to court in Chitungwiza and released on bail, with a hearing scheduled for 24, according to multiple sources cited by CPJ.

Hakata was also released on bail and charged with incitement to assault, according to Muchineripi.

“It is outrageous that the Zimbabwean police arrested journalists Blessed Mhlanga and Chengeto Chidi, beating Mhlanga in the process, and detained them over the weekend, simply for doing their job and covering up the authorities’ attempt to arrest a MP,” Angela lamented. Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator in New York, quoted in a nongovernmental organization (NGO) statement.

“Adding insult to injury, the police also brought false charges against journalists and passerby Moses Hakata, who sought to help them. The prosecution should immediately drop the charges against the three defendants and stop wasting time and the resources of the court,” added the activist.

At the hearing, authorities charged the journalists under an election regulation that prohibits photographing polling stations during voting, according to Zimbabwean media and a statement from the Media Institute of Southern Africa, a NGO with members in 11 countries in the South. African Development Community (SADC).

The journalists pleaded not guilty and were released after posting bail of 20,000 Zimbabwean dollars (52.4 euros) each.

If found guilty, the accused faces up to a year in prison and a fine of up to 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars (183.4 euros), according to Muchineripi.

Zimbabwean authorities have also brought alternative charges against the journalists, accusing them of disorderly conduct at a polling station, the conviction of which carries a fine of up to Z$20,000, according to the country’s electoral law.

The journalists were also charged under a section of the electoral law, which prohibits the performance of marching bands or any noise-emitting device near a polling station, but they dropped that charge during the hearing. , according to Muchineripi.

Mhlanga filed a complaint against the policeman who assaulted him and destroyed his phone, according to the lawyer. Police returned the broken phone at the lawyer’s request, but kept one of Chidi’s phones and a News Day camera, saying they constituted “evidence”.

Police officials and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission did not comment when urged by CPJ.

Also read: Covid-19: WHO warns of rising cases in southern Africa

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