Victory for media as High Court orders police not to arrest journalists
By Nyashadzashe Ndoro
The High Court on Monday granted the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Zimbabwe) a relief order interdicting police from harassing, arresting and detaining journalists who are carrying out their lawful duties during the national lockdown aimed at containing the coronavirus.
This followed an urgent chamber application filed by Misa Zimbabwe and freelancer Panashe Makufa against the harassment of journalists by police during the national lockdown.
Mafuka was recently detained and beaten by police in Harare when he photographed them enforcing the lockdown.
In the matter, the Commissioner General of Police was the 1st respondent and the Zimbabwe Media Commission was the 2nd respondent since it is responsible for media accreditation.
On Monday, High Court Judge Justice Manzunzu handed down the relief order and urged the Police not to interfere with the work of journalists during national lockdown.
“Pending the determination of the matter on the return date applicant is granted the following relief:
“1) Police officers and other law enforcement agencies charged with the duty to implement the Covid-19 related lockdown are interdicted from arresting, detaining or interfering in any unnecessary, with the work of the 2nd applicant and members of the 1st applicant purely on the basis that their press cards issued in 2019 have expired.
“2) The 1st and 2nd respondents be and are hereby ordered to ensure that the 2nd respondent’s statement about the validity of 2019 press cards is communicated to all police stations in Zimbabwe, as well as to appropriate commanding offices of any agents who might be assisting the Zimbabwe Republic Police in enforcing the law, with 12 hours after the handing down of this order,” read the High Court order.
The High Court has however accused the Police of ignoring first Draft Order from Misa and this is now the final Draft Order,
If the Police does not respond within 10 days, the High Court said a final ruling will be given.
Misa Zimbabwe said it hoped that the interim relief order would bring to an end the unlawful harassment and arrests of journalists which was on the rise, particularly during the lockdown.
“This is a victory for media practitioners and the right to media freedom in Zimbabwe as the court order should go a long way in entrenching the enjoyment of media freedom during the lockdown extension period and beyond. Indeed journalists are an essential service as they are critical in promoting access to information by citizens.”
Misa Zimbabwe has urged the media to be professional in conducting lawful duties and ethical responsibilities in line with the profession’s codes and ethics while also being mindful of the profession’s safety and security measures.
“This will go a long way in ensuring that citizens access accurate, credible, verifiable and useful information about the pandemic and how they can prevent contamination and its spread in their various communities,” Misa added.
Zimbabwe has been recently regarded as Africa’s biggest press freedom violator in connection with coronavirus crisis, after a number of journalists were arrested for practising in the past 21 day lockdown.
A reporter for the weekly TellZim, Beatific Ngumbwanda, was on 8 April arrested for violating the lockdown in Chiredzi, although he showed his press card to the police.
He was released after being held for nearly two hours.
NewsDay and Voice of America (VOA) reporter Nunurai Jena was on 2 April arrested while filming a police roadblock in Chinhoyi on 2 April and was charged with “disorderly conduct”.
New Ziana’s Tatenda Julius, was arrested in Mutare on 30 March, while freelancer Kudzanai Musengi was arrested in the central city of Gweru the same day. Nehanda Radio