March 3, 2017

Two journalists arrested over story about Mugabe’s health

President Mugabe © Iomienews
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s arrest of three senior members of the newspaper NewsDay’s staff in Harare on a charge of insulting President Robert Mugabe, and urges the authorities to drop the charges against them.

The arrests of editor Wisdom Mudzungairi, reporter Richard Chidza and legal officer Sifikile Thabete came one day after the newspaper ran a story about the reasons for President Mugabe’s trip to Singapore for a medical examination. The report quoted sources as saying it was not just because of his advanced age – he is 93 – but also because he has prostate cancer.

Charges have also been brought against Alpha Media Holdings, the company that owns NewsDay, The Standard, The Independent and other newspapers.

The journalists’ lawyer said they were being held at police headquarters and would appear in court tomorrow. They are facing a possible one-year jail sentence under Section 33 (2b) of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, which concerns undermining or insulting the office of the president.

The supreme court ruled in October 2013 that this article was unconstitutional because it violated freedom of expression. Since then it has not been used to convict anyone but it is still used as grounds for arrest. Human rights groups say the law is used solely as a way to harass journalists and gag freedom of expression.

Zimbabwe is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index while Mugabe, its president since 1987, has been on RSF’s list of press freedom predators since 1987.