Cape Town, South Africa, October 23, 2014–Police and politicians in Zimbabwe should respect the right of journalists to report the news without fear of intimidation or violence, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today after police beat up a journalist in the capital, Harare.
The attack on Wednesday followed a statement made last week by Grace Mugabe, the wife of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, in which she said journalists working for privately owned media were opposition activists and were bribed to write negative stories about her, news reports said. Today, Grace Mugabe announced her candidacy to succeed her husband as president, according to news reports.
“Public figures should have a high tolerance for criticism and should never disparage independent journalists for doing their work,” CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Sue Valentine said. “Such comments clearly can put journalists at risk of harassment or violence.”
Tapiwa Zivira, a journalist who produces multimedia content for the privately owned independent paper Newsday, was in downtown Harare on Wednesday and was filming police detaining street vendors allegedly trading without a permit and other individuals, he told CPJ. Police have been photographed previously by Newsday taking heavy-handed action against touts marshaling commuters into taxis. Zivira said that when police saw him recording their actions, they began to beat him with their fists and batons and threw him into the police van. He was held for four hours at the police station before he was released.
Zivira said he was badly bruised and had a torn ligament in his foot. He said that police returned his recording device, but deleted the footage, and did not return his press card.
Zivira told CPJ that while police officers pummeled him on the sidewalk they had referred to Mugabe’s criticism of journalists, saying, “Did you hear what the first lady said last week?”
“It was like it was raining fists, batons and boots,” Zivira said of the assault to CPJ. “I was trying to tell them I was doing my work as a journalist, but that made them hit me much more. They said the press always writes negatively about the police.”
CPJ’s calls and a message sent to the minister of information about Grace Mugabe’s statement were not immediately returned. CPJ’s call to a police spokesman was not immediately answered.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ) condemned the attack. Foster Dongozi, secretary-general of the union, told CPJ that Mugabe’s statement “undermines the safety of our members, especially in a politically charged environment.”