A rights group, Human Rights Watch, has accused over 20 African governments including Zimbabwe, of intimidating the media and restraining their freedom.
The report alleged that the Zimbabwe government is one of the guiltiest culprit that have at many instances restrained the press freedom of journalists in the country.
The report, which was released on Thursday says that the government of Zimbabwe has been intimidating political opponents, journalists, health workers and others who have complained that the government’s effort in handling COVID-19 crisis is not enough.
Gerry Simpson, an associate director for crisis and conflict division at Human Rights Watch has this to say, “In Zimbabwe, we have documented a number of incidences over the last year. And our report references three of those.
“We documented how a journalist was detained for nine weeks for his COVID reporting between July and November at various stages last year, and finally we have noted how Zimbabwe introduced the Public Health Order Act in March which threatened up to 20 years in prison for fake news on public health matters.”
Samuel Takawira, a journalist with an online media outlet in Zimbabwe called 263Chat, is one of two journalists arrested last year for interviewing three opposition activists who were reportedly tortured by state security agents.
“Our arrest served as a reminder to all other journalists, media people not to pursue the story. Obviously, this was a ploy to silence people, this was a ploy by government to hinder its citizens from knowing the truth, what transpired to these ladies. No wonder why (in) their bail conditions we were not supposed to speak to the media,” Takawira narrated.
Head of the Government-Affiliated Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Elasto Mugwadi, narrated that there have been reports of several abuses by the authority.
“There were a few complaints when these issues were being applied; the robust approach in enforcement by the police. So generally excessive enforcement. This is a continuous process; we are not stopping monitoring, we are still carrying on,” he said.
Simpson of Human Rights Watch mentioned Uganda and Malawi as other countries where authorities have cracked down hard on journalists trying to cover the pandemic.
“For example, in Uganda where securities killed at least 54 protestors and injured 45 in November, while citing COVID-19 regulations saying the rallies they were attending were illegal and in Malawi, just a few weeks ago, in January this year at least seven police officers assaulted a journalist in the capital with pipes and sticks for several minutes after he asked for permission to photograph them enforcing COVID-19 regulations,” he said.
Human Rights Watch has urged the U.N. Human Rights Council to report on the compliance of nations in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic while respecting the people’s right and freedom.