At the Herald House in Harare, members of the Zimbabwe National Army’s Public Relations Directorate have already set their base. At the country’s only national television and radio broadcasting station, troops have laid siege, controlling every detail sent through the airwaves.
The three Constable Nqobile Moyo from Bulawayo Central police station, Sergeant Rosemary Mangena from Plumtree police station and Constable Siphiwe Makonese from Hwange police station were introduced as student journalists on attachment at The Chronicle newspaper, although it was not clear which journalism colleges there were attending.
According to senior journalists from Zimpapers Bulawayo branch, the three police officers were referred from Zimpapers head office in Harare and even local branch’s management had no clue on their mission.
“We are really shocked. We don’t know what is happening. Everybody is afraid, I think this is some form of intimidation by police. These three police officers are not even studying journalism at any college in the country, but were sent from head office as interns,” said a senior journalist based at the Zimpapers branch who spoke on condition of anonymity.
No comment could be obtained from Zimpapers Bulawayo branch Sithembile Ncube as she was said to be out of office.
The Chronicle has been under fire from law enforcement agents in the past recent years with two of its editors being dragged to court by the police. The newspaper’s current editor Innocent Gore was arrested in September this year and charged with contravening the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) over a story which a Nkulumane man alleged that two people suspected to be police officers attempted to rob him.
Brezhnev Malaba former editor of the same paper has a pending court case after police arrested him in April 2009 and filed criminal charges alleging falsehood reporting over a story that senior police officers were stealing maize from GMB.
The deployment of the three police officers at The Chronicle came at time when police has arrested The Standard editor,Nevanji Madanhire and his senior reporter Nqobani Ndlovu.
Ndlovu spent nine days at Khami Maximum Remand Prison recently before his release on bail while Madanhire was released on bail on Wednesday. The magistrate immediately ordered the state to investigate abuse of office by police.
Madanhire was arrested over a story published by the Standard alleging that police were recruiting war veterans and retired officers in preparation for elections. Ndlovu was arrested over the same issue.
Magistrate Don Ndirowei said the state should investigate allegations by the defence that police were abusing their powers in detaining people even in cases where the cases looked flimsy.
Madanhire’s lawyer, Chris Mhike had complained to the court that his client’s arrest was unnecessary and was a clear violation of his rights. He said police had the option of inviting him to the police station the next day as he had handed himself to the police and was also a man of respected standing in society.
Madanhire was granted US$100 bail and was ordered to appear in court on 16 December where the defence will contest his placement on bail.
If convicted, the journalist will be “liable to a fine of up to or exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or both.”
Analysts have blamed the clampdown on journalists on Zanu PF hardliners who want to control the flow of information ahead of next year’s elections