Arrest of Journalists Unfortunate – Timba

HARARE – The Deputy Minister of Information and Publicity Jameson Timba, has said the arrest of Zimbabwe Independent journalists is unfortunate as it comes at a time the country is working on reforming tough media laws.\r\n

In an interview on Radio in the capital Harare, Timba said the process that started in Kariba last week would facilitate the unimpeded flow of information.

"Its unfortunate that we still have laws in our country that infringe on media freedom and freedom of expression. The process that we started in Kariba is intended at reviewing such laws so that we can create an environment that facilitates the unimpeded flow and consumption of information," said Timba.

Police stormed the offices of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper over the weekend as they sought to arrest the newspaper’s editor, Vincent Kahiya and its news editor, Constantine Chimakure.

The two were wanted in connection with a story based on a public document availed by the courts, which revealed the identities of security officers behind the abduction of journalists and civic society activists last year.

Lawyer, Innocent Chagonda of Atherstone and Cook said the police officers were still struggling charge the two, who handed themselves over to the police on Monday and are still in custody.

"I am at the Attorney General’s offices and they are trying to come with a charge for the two. Initially they wanted to charge them under AIPPA for publishing falsehoods. I hope they will be able to bring them to court this afternoon," said Chagonda.

He added that the police officers’ other bone of contention was the use of the term "abductees", as they are arguing that no-one was ever abducted.

The detention of Kahiya and Chimakure comes at a time when the editor of The Sunday News, Brezhnev Malaba and journalist Nduduzo Tshuma are facing criminal defamation charges for publishing a story, which implicated the police in a corruption scandal involving grain.

Meanwhile the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, ZUJ, on Tuesday said the new government has scored an “own goal” with Monday’s arrest of two senior journalists.

Wayne Bvudzijena, the national police spokeperson, said the two journalists were facing allegations of publishing falsehoods meant to undermine the public confidence in law enforcement and security agents.

But Foster Dongozi, the secretary of ZU, said the arrest of the journalists flew in the face of the inclusive government’s proposed media reforms.

“The irony is that the manhunt for the two was launched on the day that a conference to reform the media was underway,” said Dongozi.

Media stakeholders under the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ) umbrella, boycotted last week’s Kariba Indaba citing the continued detention of freelance journalist Andrison Manyere, who is facing what the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says are ‘trumped up’ charges of banditry and terrorism.

“In view of ongoing attempts to rebrand the country in order to attract investment and tourism, the latest move amounts to a spectacular ‘own goal’,” said Dongozi, who visited the two journalists at the Law and Order Section at Harare Police Station.

Kahiya and Chimakure were due in court late on Tuesday but sources said it was very unlikely as the investigating officers were taking their time.