Zimbabwe’s ZRP police asked to reform, Stop violence against journalists

zimbabwe police beating reporters

Zim Police attack photo journalists to cover their brutality against protesters

Charles Mabhena|zwnews.com

Players in the media, that included representatives from Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Zimbabwe), journalists from different media houses, and freelancers, on 16 September 2016, met a delegation of senior police officers over the recent harassment of reporters covering demonstrations.

The relationship between the Zimbabwean police and the media have not been a pleasing one, the two are now sworn enemies with the media have angered the law enforcement agency by exposing its brutality.

Commenting on the recent meeting between the police and journalists in order to map a way forward on how the two can work in harmony, a veteran journalist says for as long as the police force doesn’t re-invent itself from brutality, the co-existence between the two will remain an illusion.

“The relationship is like that of a police officer and a criminal, it is like hide and seek, the police know very well that they are being cruel by beating up people and they try to hide it, so they won’t let reporters uncover what they are trying to hide,” says the journalist who declined to be named, for fear of further victimisation who is also a victim after he was once detained and assaulted for covering recent protests.

He adds that the members of the press did a good job in seeking audience with the police, but, warns that achieving the desired working relationship between the two is largely premised on the police’s will to shun away from cruelty when discharging their mandate of maintaining order.

“If the police do their job well, without beating up or harassing anyone, they would be happy to be in the picture, film or news, the problem comes when they do actions that portray them in bad light when published. No police officer would want to be identified perpetrating horror acts like torturing civilians, and it is their desire to hide such actions which pit them against journalists,” says the journalist now based in Chinhoyi.

Analysts are of the conviction that police are harassing journalists because they fear exposure of their inhumane treatment on protesters. Apart from arresting, detaining, and assaulting journalists, the police in Zimbabwe have even gone as far as ordering photojournalists to delete the images they would have taken, that could implicate them.

In a typical example, in July this year, some journalists covering a demonstration in Mufakose were arrested and detained at Marimba Police Station and released after they erased images from their cameras in response to the order to do so.

MISA-Zimbabwe concurs with analysts that the police’s fear of being exposed to the outside world has led them to view the media more as a threat than a workmate.

It would appear the police’s anger and hostility against journalists and particularly photojournalists arise from fears of publication of images that capture their excesses and heavy-handedness in dealing with demonstrators under the guise of maintaining law and order,” says MISA-Zimbabwe.

At the meeting MISA-Zimbabwe Trust chairperson Cris Chinaka tabled journalists’ concerns and their call for co-existence and good working relationship between the two parties whose roles are critical for the common cause of ensuring peaceful development in Zimbabwe.

It was proposed after the meeting that there should be good relations between the two parties. Journalists said they ought to be protected when doing their duties and said in the event that the police are not happy with the way journalists conduct themselves as the cover protests, they urge them to report such journalists to media monitoring organisations such as MISA-Zimbabwe, ZUJ, or the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, rather than arresting, detaining, or assaulting them.

Police spokesperson Charity Charamba admitted the bad blood that exist between the two institutions and added that the relationship between her organisation and the media is vital, and should be premised on the observance and upholding of ethical conduct. She added that journalists must not be partisan in how they report news.

“When police disperse an unlawful gathering acting in their lawful mandate, it is termed brutality, but when a police officer is assaulted the issue does not make any headlines,” she said. Charamba also said journalists should clearly identify themselves distinctly by producing their accreditation cards to police officer or put on Press jackets.

Charamba’s assertion on reporters identifying themselves before police officers failed to save journalists from police attacks, in fact it made them the target, journalists were attacked despite them displaying their accreditation cards from the Zimbabwe Media Commission.

According to MIZA-Zimbabwe there was an onslaught on journalists doing their job, which has seen several journalists being assaulted and arrested by the police following the protests and demonstrations that engulfed the country recently.

On September 1 2016, a freelance photojournalist, Crispen Ndlovu was admitted at a private hospital in Bulawayo after he was reportedly assaulted by members of riot police, for taking pictures of them attacking a protestor. On September 2 2016, another photojournalist James Jemwa who was arrested on August 26 2016, while covering protests in Harare clocked a week at Chikurubi Maximum Prison.

In June five journalists that included Garikai Chaunza, Edgar Gweshe, and Christopher Mahove among others, were arrested and detained for six hours at Harare Central Police Station for covering a demonstration against Vice President Pelekezela Mphoko’s staying at Rainbow Towers hotel.

These were just a few examples from a handful of the unlawful acts by police on reporters that prompted media practitioners to petition and seek audience with the law enforcement agency, who harass members of the press, instead of protecting them while doing their lawful duty to report events as they unfold.

In a related development, pictures revealing police torture of arrested protesters went viral recently. The protesters were taken at the Mbare Magistrates Court this Monday as evidence of police brutality, where magistrate Stanley Mambanje ordered the state to investigate the matter and report back to the court on October 6. It is also alleged that some of the protesters were granted bail in absentia, because they were allegedly badly injured from torture while in police custody. The authorities told the court they failed to bring the protesters in question because of logistical problems, but Jeremiah Bhamu a lawyer representing some of the protesters doubted the reason given for failing to bring protesters to court for trial.

“It is confusing that when people are arrested, the authorities don’t find logistical problems to take them to Chikurubi, but when those people are needed to appear before the courts excuses like logistical problems are raised,” he said. zwnews.com