Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have condemned bullying and censorship of journalists on social media in the wake of an Al Jazeera documentary which exposes gold smuggling and money laundering in Zimbabwe. In a statement seen by Pindula News, ZLHR said bullying journalists stifles them
ZLHR CONDEMNS BULLYING AND CENSORSHIP OF JOURNALISTS
ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) strongly condemns the brazen bullying of journalists in a desperate attempt to undermine efforts to hold influential and powerful people accountable for their alleged misdemeanours and unduly limit freedom of expression and ultimately curtail access to information.
In what amounts to a bizarre act of extraordinary intimidation, one faceless social media enthusiast, who identifies himself as Tinoedzazvimwe on micro-blogging website, Twitter, blatantly threatened media practitioners and labelled them as “reckless journalists” simply for reporting on the contents of a corruption-exposing documentary broadcast by Al Jazeera Investigative Unit and calling on those implicated to be held to account for their actions.
The social media enthusiast chillingly warned journalists not to repeat and report what is contained in the documentary titled Gold Mafia, which according to Al Jazeera Investigative Unit, was recorded after the Infiltration of four gold smuggling gangs and reveals a giant money laundering and sanctions-evasion scheme in Southern Africa-and warned that some undisclosed “brickbats” would visit those who elect to do so.
There is no excuse to bully, intimidate, threaten, censure and endanger media practitioners. Such threats to journalists curtail freedom of expression and freedom of the media, which is one of the most fundamental rights guaranteed in section 61 of the Constitution and also stifles access to information, which is enshrined in section 62 of the Constitution and all of which are vital to a functioning democracy.
ZLHR is convinced that this stifling of journalists by some self-important gatekeepers, who are desperate to defend and please some authorities, is a failed attempt to stop the publication and consumption of perceived offensive media reports, which apparently reflect the flow of corruption in Zimbabwe.
Such gatekeepers need to understand that suppressing journalists will neither change people’s opinions nor generate public support for the commission of corrupt activities.
It is no coincidence that the intimidation of journalists is being done in the run-up to general elections.
Bullying of journalists not only puts the lives of journalists in danger but also makes it difficult for journalists to do their work freely.
This pattern of repression of journalists is not new in Zimbabwe, and ZLHR has, over the years, documented numerous violations by senior government employees and gatekeepers of the late Robert Mugabe and his successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
ZLHR is appalled by the audacity with which journalists are being attacked, and government should not protect authorities or public figures from criticism. Still, it should instead promote space for public debate and free expression in the face of shocking revelations of corruption linked to the pillaging of the country’s natural resources.
It is worrying to see the space for dissent and providing information of public importance rapidly shrink in Zimbabwe, yet freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic rights and freedoms.
Zimbabwean journalists have faced severe obstacles to executing their professional work for several years, including threats, harassment, intimidation, assault, arbitrary arrest, detention, prosecution and abduction. It is time to dismantle continued impunity.
Zimbabwean authorities must bring those responsible for the shameless attacks on media practitioners to justice and ensure that all journalists can do their jobs without fear of intimidation or reprisals.
ZLHR is concerned that this case of threats to the life and safety of journalists could be facilitated by, and form part of, a broader climate of intolerance towards free speech in Zimbabwe. The bullying of media practitioners shows further proof of direct attacks on the civic space in Zimbabwe.
It comes at a time when Zimbabwe is already hogging the spotlight for all the wrong reasons after introducing retrogressive amendments to the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill and introducing so-called patriotism provisions amendments in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which have the effect of curtailing and stifling the operations of non-governmental organisations.
Although Zimbabwe was removed from the ‘Grey List’ by the Financial Action Task Force in March 2022, the country risks severe consequences if the government does not promptly and adequately address these money laundering allegations. Especially given that such allegations arise barely one year after Zimbabwe was removed from the ‘Grey List’ by the global money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog.