Lusaka, October 6, 2022—Zimbabwean authorities should immediately drop charges against sports freelancer journalist Hope Chizuzu, return his electronic devices, and allow him to carry out his work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
Around midmorning on September 29, police detectives went to Chizuzu’s office in the central business district of the capital Harare, where they informed him that he was under arrest, but did not disclose why, the journalist told CPJ via messaging app.
A few minutes later, Chizuzu was taken to Harare Central Police Station, where police informed him that Moses Chunga and Eric Aisam, Dynamos Football Club board members, opened a case against him for allegedly transmitting false messages, the journalist said.
Chizuzu, who mostly publishes stories on Facebook, was charged with transmitting false data messages intending to cause harm, in violation of Section 164C of the Data Protection Act, which amends the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, and his mobile phone and an iPad were confiscated, according to the journalist, a news report and the Zimbabwe chapter of the regional press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa.
Authorities released Chizuzu after documenting a warning statement and told him that he would soon be required to appear in court, the journalist said. His devices remain in police custody for “further investigations,” Chizuzu said.
“Zimbabwean police must immediately drop the charges against journalist Hope Chizuzu, immediately return the journalist’s electronic devices, and stop the abuse of the country’s cyber security laws to silence journalists,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Chizuzu has become the latest victim of the country’s draconian cyber laws which are inimical to press freedom as Zimbabweans head to the polls next year.”
Chizuzu is the third journalist to be arrested in Zimbabwe over alleged violations of a cybercrime law since the Data Protection Act was enacted in 2021. (On August 2, 2022, police in Zimbabwe arrested Alpha Media Holdings journalists Widsom Mdzungairi and Desmond Chingarande on charges of transmitting “false data intending to cause harm.”) If convicted of transmitting false data messages, Chizuzu could face a fine of 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$193) and up to five years in prison.
“The new cyber laws are being abused by those who are against the corruption fight … Even the (complainants’) statement to police failed to provide the claimed falsehoods,” Chizuzu said, questioning the police’s authority to arrest him and take possession of his devices.
CPJ was unable to reach Chunga and Aisam by phone and they did not respond to a request for comment sent via messaging app. Dynamos club spokesperson Eric Mvududu also did not respond to a request for comment sent via messaging app.