The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but legislation limits these freedoms in the “interest of defense, public safety, public order, state economic interests, public morality, and public health.” Making a false statement prejudicial to the government carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. The government continued to arrest, detain, and harass its critics, and journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: Security authorities continued to restrict freedom of speech and arrest individuals, particularly those who made or publicized comments critical of President Mugabe or made political statements opposing ZANU-PF or the government’s agenda. CIO agents and informers routinely monitored political and other meetings. Authorities targeted persons deemed critical of the government for harassment, abduction, interrogation, and sometimes torture.
In May Hwange magistrates acquitted Moses Mzila-Ndlovu, the minister of national healing and reconciliation, due to lack of evidence. Mzila-Ndlovu had been arrested in Lupane, Matabeleland North, in April 2011 on charges of communicating false statements after addressing a meeting to commemorate the Gukurahundi military campaign (see section 1.a.). The case of a Roman Catholic priest, Marko Mabutho Mnkandla, who was also arrested at the same event for “undermining police authority,” had not been resolved by year’s end.
Freedom of Press: The government continued to restrict freedom of the press. The Ministry of Media, Information, and Publicity (MMIP) continued to control the state-run media tightly. High-ranking ZANU-PF officials, including Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu, used the media to threaten violence against critics of the government. MMIP officials routinely threatened independent news organizations that criticized ZANU-PF and President Mugabe with the loss of their license.
Despite threats and pressure from the government, the number of independent newspapers continued to increase after the Zimbabwe Media Commission--which oversees media regulation, registration, and accreditation--granted more publishing licenses during the year. In June The Observer was granted a license but did not begin publishing by year’s end. Four independent weeklies continued to operate, and all independent newspapers continued to criticize the unity government formed under the 2008 GPA and ZANU-PF. However, newspapers also exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the continuing prospect of prosecution under criminal libel and security laws.
In contrast with previous years, the government did not use accreditation laws to prevent entry into the country of international media perceived to be critical of the government. International media outlets such as CNN, Al Jazeera, and the BBC continued to operate from within the country. Foreign journalists continued to report that government agents followed them and prevented them from covering certain news events.
During the year independent media vendors were threatened and copies of their newspapers confiscated.
On April 26, police arrested BBC classical music presenter Petroc Trelawny in Bulawayo and charged him with contravening the country’s immigration laws by allegedly working in the country without a work permit. Trelawny was in the country as master of ceremonies for the Bulawayo Music Festival run by the Zimbabwe Academy of Music. However, the Attorney General’s Office rejected the prosecution’s claim after the music presenter’s lawyers convinced it that he did not violate any of the country’s laws. He was summoned to court on May 30 for allegedly violating the conditions under which his visitor’s entry certificate had been issued. The magistrate dismissed the case.
On September 27, police raided offices of a registered company and news agency, Afronews Media Agency, and arrested nine journalists. Officials of the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and Zimbabwe Revenue Authority accompanied the police. Police accused the company of gathering news and exporting it to ATV, a United Kingdom television station based in Manchester, that would then broadcast the material. The company was charged with contravening the Broadcasting Services Act, which criminalizes broadcasting without a license. However, the company was fully registered with the Zimbabwe Media Commission.
On October 17, Reporters Without Borders reported a series of arrests of journalists in the country, alleging a growing pattern by authorities of intimidation of independent, privately owned media. Reporters Without Borders cited a series of lawsuits and police incidents that occurred in September and October involving reporters from the privately owned Daily News on Sunday, Daily News, Kariba News, and the African Open Media Initiative (AfroMedia).
In August 2011 Zimbabwe Media Commission Chairperson Godfrey Majonga threatened to ban all foreign publications circulating in the country that had not been registered with the government-appointed regulatory body. Despite the threat several foreign-based newspapers published outside the country continued to circulate, including the South African-based Sunday Times and Business Day. The Zimbabwean, based in the UK, regularized its registration and has a registered office in Harare. These publications continued to be critical of the government.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. Two new radio stations, StarFM and ZiFM, with close links to ZANU-PF, received licenses to broadcast in November 2011 and began broadcasting in May and August. Many in the media fraternity viewed the new stations as an extension of the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). Media, Information, and Publicity Permanent Secretary George Charamba urged the stations to be guided by issues of “National interest and the liberation struggle” in their operations. After touring the ZiFM Studios in mid August, the media quoted Information Minister Webster Shamu as hailing the launch of the station as a success for the campaign against imperialists, who had been “using the weakness of pirate radio stations to reverse the gains of the liberation struggle.”
In May 2011 Minister Shamu announced that the government had procured equipment to establish eight community radio stations, with technical assistance from the ZBC. However, no community radio stations had been established by year’s end.
Early in the year, the BAZ called for applications for 14 free-to-air local commercial radio licenses. Applications were due on February 29. Hearings for prospective applicants were expected in September but were not held by year’s end. The application fees for the potential broadcasters were $9,500, including an initial fee of $2,500 and a public inquiry fee of $7,500. On being granted a license, prospective broadcasters would be expected to pay a license fee of $15,000 each year.
The government-controlled ZBC, the only domestically based television broadcasting station, operated two television channels. International satellite television broadcasts were available through private firms but were too expensive for most citizens. A growing number of citizens watched free-to-air satellite channels on the Wiztech decoder. A Wiztech decoder and satellite dish cost approximately $70 and allowed access (at no monthly charge) to three SABC channels, Botswana TV, France TV, Press TV, and many religious channels. During the year Harare magistrates referred two cases of unlicensed possessors of television sets to the Supreme Court. The two defendants argued that the Broadcasting Services Act requiring individuals with television and radio sets to buy an annual license from the ZBC--whether or not the owner used it to watch ZBC broadcasts--infringed on their constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, and protection from discrimination.
Violence and Harassment: MDC and ZANU-PF supporters assaulted journalists during the year. On July 22, alleged ZANU-PF supporters assaulted freelance photojournalist Regis Marisamhuka as he traveled to cover an MDC-T rally at Murombedzi growth point in Zvimba. Marisamhuka filed a complaint of assault and theft of a camera with the officer-in-charge at Zvimba police station. Despite a ZANU-PF official admitting confiscated the camera to delete the pictures, Marisamhuka did not recover his camera, and police made no arrests.
Security forces arbitrarily harassed and arrested local and foreign journalists who reported unfavorably on government policies or security force operations. Senior ZANU-PF officials also criticized local and foreign independent media outlets for allegedly biased reporting that discredited President Mugabe and misrepresented the country’s political and economic conditions.
On July 17, police arrested NewsDay photojournalist Aaron Ufumeli while he was covering a demonstration organized by the women’s movement at Africa Unity Square in Harare, after he took pictures of what appeared to be a confrontation between a police officer and one of the demonstrators. Police reportedly confiscated Ufumeli’s camera for approximately 20 minutes, insisting that he erase the photographs that he took; they returned his camera after he did so.
On July 23, police arrested Thomas Madhuku, a freelance journalist, and detained him at Harare Central Police Station. Police alleged Madhuku tampered with the national voters’ roll and practiced journalism with an expired accreditation card.
In December 2011 police in Gwanda arrested three members of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ), a media watchdog, for convening a meeting in October without police approval. Officials charged the three with provoking a breach of peace in connection with the MMPZ’s production of a DVD. Although reliable reports indicated that the DVD was about peace and reconciliation, police claimed it was about the Gukurahundi atrocities see section1.aThe case was referred to the Supreme Court on February 7. Lawyers successfully applied for the removal of the three from remand on April 30 after their case challenging the constitutionality of section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act was referred to the Supreme Court.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to use the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) to control media content and licensing of journalists. The main provisions of the law give the government extensive powers to control the media and suppress free speech by requiring the registration of journalists and prohibiting the “abuse of free expression.”
The law grants the government a wide range of legal powers to prosecute persons for political and security crimes that are not clearly defined. For example, the extremely broad Official Secrets Act makes it a crime to divulge any information acquired in the course of official duties.
On April 11, Minister Shamu summoned editors from the Daily News and NewsDay to complain about repeated reports on the state of President Mugabe’s health. During the meeting, he reportedly told Tafataona Mahoso, a senior official of the Zimbabwe Media Commission, that it was “high time” that the statutory media regulatory agency started acting on errant journalists.
Businessman Ken Sharpe, who was constructing a new shopping mall in a wetlands area in the Borrowdale area of Harare, attended that same meeting. Sharpe had complained to Shamu that he was “bringing a lot of money” to the country and did not want negative publicity. Editors from the private newspapers in attendance had reported concerns raised by the Environmental Management Authority and the Harare City Council over the environmental impact of Sharpe’s construction project.
Libel Laws/National Security: Antidefamation laws criminalize libel of both public and private persons. The criminal code makes it an offense to publish or communicate false statements prejudicial to the state. The law allows authorities to monitor and censor “the publication of false statements that will engender feelings of hostility towards--or cause hatred, contempt, or ridicule of--the president or acting president.” Any person who “insults the president or communicates falsehoods” is subject to imprisonment.
On September 12, Minister Shamu repeated his threats to revoke the operating licenses of media organizations, accusing them of abusing media freedom by criticizing the country’s leadership and reporting on President Mugabe’s health. The minister said that this was the final warning. The next day, the statutory Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) established a media council to regulate the conduct of journalists. The commission appointed 13 councilors to the Zimbabwe Media Council, including ZMC commissioner Henry Muradzikwa, Zimpapers CEO Justin Mutasa, ZBC CEO Happison Muchechetere, and others drawn from state media and journalism training institutions.
The law permits the government to monitor all communications in the country, including Internet transmissions, and the government sometimes restricted access to the Internet.
For example, the government blocked Blackberry’s Internet services for Zimbabwean-registered Blackberries, including its messaging service. Because these services were encrypted, they did not comply with the Interception of Communications Act, which allows the government to intercept and monitor communications.
Despite the restrictive environment for the traditional media, Internet and mobile phone communication in the country is widely available and nominally free from government interference. However, human rights groups have noted growing efforts by the government to curb speech transmitted through information and communication technologies, as evidenced by the arrest of a man in 2011 for a comment he made on Facebook. The growth of mobile phone use has also seen an increase in Internet access by citizens overcoming some barriers that were largely infrastructural and due to low bandwidth. According to the International Telecommunications Union, 15.7 percent of individuals used the Internet in 2011.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government continued to restrict academic freedom. The president is the chancellor of all eight state-run universities and appoints their vice chancellors. The government has oversight of all higher education policy at public universities and ZANU-PF controls the Ministry of Higher Education. The law restricts the independence of universities, subjecting them to government influence and extending the disciplinary powers of university authorities over staff and students.
CIO personnel at times assumed faculty and other positions and posed as students at public and some private universities to intimidate and gather intelligence on faculty and students who criticized government policies and actions. CIO officers regularly attended classes in which noted MDC activists were lecturers or students. In response both faculty and students often practiced self-censorship.
On November 19, a lecturer at Bindura University (and former CIO operative) Obediah Dodo and his student, Assistant Police Inspector Collen Musorowegomo, were arrested on charges of publishing false statements prejudicial to the state in their academic report on 2008 political violence. In June the American International Journal of Contemporary Research published Dodo’s and Musorowegomo’s report “Political Intolerance, Diversity and Democracy: Youths Violence in Bindura Urban Zimbabwe.” The report highlights murder and torture of MDC-T supporters by state agents and ZANU-PF supporters. The defendants sought protection under the Academic Act, and the case was pending at year’s end.
State-run universities frequently cancelled scheduled events organized by foreign embassies and refused public lectures by senior foreign diplomats. In August authorities prevented a group of visiting foreign writers from holding a scheduled workshop at Great Zimbabwe University (GZU) in Masvingo, although faculty members of GZU independently attended an off-campus alternative. The government also denied foreign academics from countries deemed critical of ZANU-PF from assuming academic residencies at the University of Zimbabwe.
The government on occasion restricted human rights activists from using cultural platforms to criticize the ruling party, President Mugabe, or political violence. In August police attempted to cancel a foreign-funded performance of the award-winning play No Voice, No Choice at the Youth Cultural and Arts Festival in Masvingo but were overruled by a local magistrate who allowed the opening show to proceed; the play later was banned nationally by the Zimbabwe Censorship Board. The play’s director appealed to the Supreme Court to continue shows based on an original preapproval by the censorship board (the board was not operational at year’s end).