By Fungi Kwaramba
Two journalists from the Daily News were yesterday left for dead after police fired rubber bullets at them while they were covering a demonstration that rocked parts of Harare’s central business district.
The police, who were indiscriminately firing pellets at civilians, seriously injured Daily News senior reporter Mugove Tafirenyika and photo-journalist Brighton Goko who were on duty.
Both Tafirenyika and Goko were admitted at a private hospital yesterday.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News Hama Saburi said it was by the grace of God that the worst did not happen.
With the help of good Samaritans, he said they were able to rush the two to a local private hospital where they are currently admitted in the intensive care unit.
Saburi said the brutal conduct by the riot police should have no place in a civilised society such as Zimbabwe.
“It is deplorable, shameful, disgraceful, and totally uncalled for. It is absurd in the extreme to criminalise the work of journalists in the 21st century and inflict the most grievous pain on members of the fourth estate when all they will be seeking to do is to go about their professional duties as society’s most trusted eyes and ears,” said Saburi.
“We believe journalists deserve better, especially from the police. If anything, police should be assisting media practitioners as they go about their duties in the wider context of creating a safe Zimbabwe in which all citizens feel safe and protected to exercise their rights without having to look over their shoulders in case ‘big brother’ is watching them. Is this too much to ask for?”
Saburi said police must be ashamed of themselves for what happened yesterday, saying the police’s leadership must take full responsibility for it.
“It is sad that police continue to act with impunity, as this is not the first time that journalists have been brutally attacked by law enforcement agents without having been provoked. In fact, it is becoming the norm for journalists to be on the receiving end of overzealous police officers each time there is a demonstration. One shudders to think what else could be in store for media practitioners now that we are about to enter the silly season of election contests,” said Saburi.
“As we wish Mugove and Brighton a speedy recovery, may we also remind our police that they have a duty to uphold the national charter: Sections 61 and 62 of the Constitution safeguard press freedom, hence the police must lead by example by upholding the law. This, we have raised with the police several times but it’s like talking to the deaf as the situation is not getting any better.
“Unless the intention is to outdo banana republics such as Burma and North Korea, our police must desist from fascist tendencies that have the effect of aggravating an already bad socio-economic situation imploding in Zimbabwe right before our own eyes,” he added.
Narrating their ordeal, Tafirenyika said they had just passed Harvest House (the MDC headquarters) trying to follow the demonstrators when police suddenly appeared and started firing at them.
“I was hit and I do not know what happened after I collapsed. I don’t know what hit me because it was from behind but when the police arrived I showed them my accreditation card and they just ignored me. I was helped by fellow journalists who took me to our offices. As I was being helped to the offices I saw Brighton being carried by some people,” said Tafirenyika with a trailing voice.
When he arrived at the Daily News offices Tafirenyika was bleeding from the head and they was also blood coming from his ears.
His T-shirt was also covered in blood and he could hardly walk.
He was immediately rushed to hospital while Goko, had been taken by some MDC activists to the party offices after he had hid from the menacing police underneath a car.
With his body riddled with pellets, Goko was in visible pain and winced as he shifted on the hospital bed that was covered with his blood.
He forced a smile but his pain was too much as he recalled the harrowing moment at the hands of the police, a time he felt he was in the jaws of death.
“I was covering the demonstrations and the police suddenly appeared, I heard shots and I fell down after being hit. After that, hordes of police officers came and started beating me up while I was down all the time holding my camera, I then slid underneath a car that was parked near the MDC headquarters and I had some officers saying the young man has been injured let us leave him. After that I was carried to the MDC headquarters by some people who I don’t know,” said Goko.
Inside the MDC headquarters there was no help that Goko received as the Morgan Tsvangirai-led party did not have running water and his rescuers could not dare take him out as the place had been sealed off by the marauding police officers.
“We stayed there for about 40 minutes along with other MDC activists who had also been beaten, I was eventually taken to hospital after the police had left the place,” said Goko.
Yesterday, media organisations condemned in the strongest terms actions by the police.
Media Alliance of Zimbabwe manager, Nigel Nyamutumbu, said the appetite by police and State security agents to use force on journalists and media practitioners was deplorable.
“It is regrettable that our police continue to be overzealous and excitable to violence despite spirited efforts to engage with them on the importance of ensuring the safety of journalists while covering news events.
“It is more worrying that such dishonourable violence against journalists has occurred in the week that the minister of Home Affairs Ignatius Chombo threatened to come hard on the media,” said Nyamutumbu.
Misa-Zimbabwe said the assault of the journalists was of grave concern as it comes after the brutal assault in July this year of other journalists.
“These wanton assaults cannot be allowed to continue with impunity as they tarnish the image of the police and ruin the mutual working relationship that should exist between the media and the police.
“This is a matter that deserves the serious attention of the minister of Home Affairs Ignatius Chombo and police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri. We implore the police and other State security agents to ensure the safety and security of journalists conducting their lawful professional duties,” Misa said in a statement.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (Zuj) secretary-general Foster Dongozi said the onslaught against journalists comes after the Home Affairs minister threatened journalists last week.
“Zuj condemns police attacks against journalists for doing their work. As we approach the 2018 elections, a pattern of systematic targeting of journalists is beginning to emerge.
“We call on the government of Zimbabwe to bring to an end, the acts of impunity being perpetrated against journalists by State actors,” said Dongozi. Daily News