Zimbabwe Among African Countries Using COVID-19 to Crack Down on Journalists, Report Finds

Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change Alliance legislator, Joana Mamombe (left) and activist Cecilia Chimbiri (both in PPEs) arriving at Harare Magistrates Court on Feb. 02, 2021 in the company of police. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)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,” he said. “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,” he sai, they were not supposed to speak to the media.” Elasto Mugwadi, the head of the government-affiliated Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, confirmed that his organization had received complaints of abuses raised in the HRW report. “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 wants the U.N. Human Rights Council meeting later this month to commission a new report focusing on states’ compliance with their rights obligations in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the impact of restrictions on free speech and peaceful assembly. The U.N. Human Rights Council was not immediately available for comment on the HRW’s report called “Covid-19 Triggers Wave of Free Speech Abuse.”   

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