ON International Day of Democracy, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has implored the government to take concrete action to protect press freedom for democracy in Zimbabwe.
Commemorated on 15 September every year, International Day of Democracy, provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in Zimbabwe, in Africa and across the world. This year, International Democracy Day is commemorated under the theme – protecting press freedom for democracy.
As a universally recognised ideal, democracy provides an environment for the protection and effective realisation of human rights. In 2022, there are concerns that ‘democracy is backsliding, civic space is shrinking, distrust, dis-information is growing, while threats to journalists and freedom of the press is expanding everyday’.
Zimbabwe is indeed, experiencing a backsliding of democracy and the concerns on press freedom and civic space are a lived reality. The need for a pluralistic press in Zimbabwe can never be understated, especially as the country moves towards yet another election.
ZLHR salutes courageous journalists and media practitioners that have been working tirelessly to facilitate freedom of expression. There are journalists who are standing together with other pro-democracy champions and standing up to call out misrule, corruption, electoral malpractices and violation of human rights. Journalists and media practitioners play a critical role in sustaining a participatory democracy by disseminating critical and much needed information, making it possible for the ordinary person to hold those in power accountable.
Sadly, in Zimbabwe, there are some journalists that have been arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted, assaulted and threatened by state and non-state actors for doing their legitimate work. For some, the persecution through prosecution is ongoing, and continues unabated.
With Zimbabwe scheduled to hold general elections in 2023, ZLHR is disconcerted by government’s failure to create an enabling environment for journalists and other media practitioners. Equally compelling is the persistent efforts by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to close civic space, through the introduction of the draconian Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill. Disabling a diverse and robust civic society will lead to disruption of information and evidence gathering that would inform the media stories.
To make the ideals of democracy a lived reality that should be enjoyed by everyone and everywhere, ZLHR calls upon government to;
• Abandon the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill, 2021, and adopt legislation conducive to a less restrictive and more enabling operating environment for civil society organisations;
• Acknowledge the contributions, importance and rights of journalists and other media practitioners in a constitutional democracy through ensuring that their fundamental rights are protected in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution;
• Cease arbitrary arrests, malicious prosecutions and pre-trial detention of journalists for their lawful work;
• Hold those who violate rights of journalists through assaults, threats and other actions – accountable.