Zimbabwe

Zim still 'a media minefield', rights groups say on World Press Freedom Day

2016-05-03 10:09

Special Report

Harare - Rights groups in Zimbabwe have slammed President Robert Mugabe’s government on World Press Freedom Day over its failure to tone down restrictive press laws, saying the country remains a "media minefield".

"From an operating environment littered with hostile media laws to a myriad of stumbling blocks, Zimbabwe possesses a media minefield," said the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights in a statement on Wednesday.

The group, which has helped scores of journalists facing state prosecution over the years, said "Zimbabwe is not a safe place for journalists, bloggers and other citizens to peacefully express themselves".

It said that even ordinary Zimbabweans were being targeted on charges of criminal nuisance and undermining the authority of the 92-year-old Mugabe on social networking platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. 

ZLHR has since 2010 defended more than 150 people charged with insulting the president.

"Anyone who challenges the authorities’ official narrative, criticises the government or exposes human rights violations is at risk of being tossed into police cells," it added.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) meantime said the restrictive AIPPA press law and other laws went against Zimbabwe's constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

Passed by a Zanu-PF dominated parliament in 2002, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act has over the past 14 years been used to close independent newspapers and arrest and expel foreign correspondents.

"Authorities continue to use the discredited AIPPA to license and regulate the media; the Official Secrets Act to broadly embargo information held by public bodies and the Broadcasting Services Act to hinder free establishment of radio stations," the Zimbabwean chapter of MISA said in a statement. 

It called on the government to implement reforms to entrench democratic rights and for top officials to "refrain from threatening the media as that has potential to trigger extra-legal violation of media freedom by political activists".

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