When did watching BBC and Al Jazeera TV become a treason?

The arrest of Munyaradzi Gwisai and 45 others and charging them with treason could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for pro-democracy activists in Zimbabwe. Now the public will know more about the successful regime change in Tunisia and Egypt from the court case than from the muted national broadcaster.

However, there is a huge public outrage as to when it became a crime to watch world news on BBC and AlJazeera TV in this day and age. One thing that is noticeable from this case is the regime’s use of tactics of repression from the textbook as outlined below.

Repression of social movements

According to Jennifer Earl, ‘the repression of social movements include police action at public protest events, such as arrests and police violence, military suppression of protest events, "disappearances" of activists, arrests and/or imprisonment of social movement participants, infiltration of social movements by government informants, covert counter-intelligence programs against social movement organizations and participants, restrictions of free speech and assembly, assaults on human rights, and murders of social movement activists, among other tactics’(Blackwellreference.com).

Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of the regime is exposed by the recent erection of the US$20,000 giant Chinese TV screen in Harare’s First Street mall which shows Zimbabwe’s Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) television and Zanu-pf jingles 24 hours a day (The Zimbabwe Mail, 07/01/11).

Despite being a national institution, the ZBC is allegedly vilifying and blacking-out MDC Ministers by "fanning hatred, political segregation and societal divisions at a time Zimbabweans yearn for a period of national healing and unity" (Newsday, 24/02/11)

Furthermore, it is rather curious that Zanu-pf is organising a multi-million signature petition for the removal of targeted sanctions on its inner circle but does not permit people to do the same against the octogenarian ruler.

Although details are still sketchy on the case which was remanded until Thursday 24/02/11, for a criminal act you need two things ‘mens rea’ a criminal or guilty mind or the intention to commit the crime and ‘actus reus’ the actual act of the crime e.g. discharging a loaded gun at soldiers who are guarding State House. But watching recorded TV news? What a joke!

While it would be better for the State to simply drop the charges and let Gwisai and his colleagues go free, however by incarcerating them the regime may actually be doing itself a disservice by making them heroes. The desire for change is catching on with talk of a proposed "Zimbabwe Million Citizen March".

Morale booster

Media claims (The Zimbabwe Mail, 24/02/11) that some senior Zanu-pf cabinet ministers "were very supportive and urged those organising the march not to give in or relent in the face of brutality" if verified as true, could be a morale booster for the pro-democracy movement.

It would also suggest growing discontent within Zanu-pf about Robert Mugabe’s 30-yr iron-fist rule and lack of a transparent succession plan because some senior army and police officers are said to be backing the million citizen march billed for Tuesday 1st March 2011 in Harare and countrywide. Despite the bloodshed in Libya, world news broadcasts of Gaddafi’s shrinking empire are being watched by Zimbabweans with encouragement.

Hopefully the e-mails purporting to be from Zanu-pf Cabinet ministers are not the creative work of the regime’s agents provocateurs. The treason trial could be, for want of the right word an accident that was waiting to happen by becoming a rallying point for mass action in Zimbabwe.

Unintended effect

The escalation of Gwisai’s alleged offence to treason which carries the death sentence may have the unintended effect of giving ammunition to pro-democracy activists in the same way the Rhodesian regime made the nationalists popular by harassing and detaining them at notorious prisons like HwaHwa, Sikombela and so on while chunning out sick propaganda through Radio Truth.

Against the background of a media blackout by the regime on the revolutions in North Africa, news-starved Zimbabweans are now being ironically informed by the State about the effect of regime change closer to home as demonstrated by the arrests. What the State did not want people to know via world news coverage by ZBC and Zimpapers, it is now doing the ‘dirty job’ itself by publicising the fact that regime change is not fiction and that locals are fast losing patience.

Before independence, we used to watch videos, films and tv programmes featuring liberation movements in Mozambique, Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Nicaragua, Guinea Bissau, East Timor and indeed Zimbabwe. This was in addition to world news coverage by the BBC on the struggles against colonialism and apartheid. How different is that from emulating regime change in Tunisia and Egypt?

Inquisitive

People are bound to become more inquisitive and ask why Gwisai and the 45 have been arrested and what they allegedly saw which the regime does not want the public to know, although BBC and Al Jazeera are legal media entities operating in Zimbabwe. Apart from that, one can watch world news broadcasts via mobile phones, satellite dishes and the internet. One only hopes the regime does not block peaceful options for change.

Clifford Chitupa Mashiri is a London based political analyst and regular columnist for The Zimbabwe Mai, he can be contatcted at zimanalysis2009@gmail.com