The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the law 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 to be critical of the government for harassment, abduction, interrogation, and sometimes torture.
The ZLHR stated that by September it had assisted more than 70 individuals who had been arrested by police for violating Section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which authorities routinely invoked against political and human rights activists as well as ordinary citizens for allegedly making seemingly innocuous jokes about the president.
On May 14, a Masvingo magistrate sentenced Chenjerai Pamhiri, a lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University, to three months’ imprisonment for reportedly calling President Mugabe a “dirty old rotten donkey” at a local supermarket on May 10.
On September 21, a magistrate in Chiredzi convicted an unemployed citizen, Regis Kandawasvika, after he allegedly blamed his unemployment on President Mugabe’s mismanagement of the country’s economy. Kandawasvika was fined $150 for committing his offense; a failure to pay the fine would have resulted in his confinement in jail for 60 days.
On October 30, the Constitutional Court ruled that section 31 of the Criminal Law Act, which criminalizes publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state, and section 33 of the act, which criminalizes undermining the authority of the president, had the effect of breaching people’s rights. The minister of justice objected to the ruling, and the court was scheduled to review the constitutionality of the law in 2014.
The Constitutional Court ruling followed an appeal by journalists Constantine Chimakure, Vincent Kahiya, and Owen Maseko, all of whom had been charged under the criminal code. Authorities arrested Chimakure and Kahiya in 2009 for publishing a story that revealed the role and names of police and intelligence agents in the abduction of human rights activists. Authorities charged Chimakure and Kahiya with publishing or communicating a statement with the intention of undermining public confidence in law enforcement agents. Maseko was an internationally recognized artist who was charged with insulting President Mugabe through a 2010 exhibition recollecting the Gukurahundi (see section 6). Maseko argued that criminalizing creative art infringes on the freedom of expression and freedom of conscience. The Constitutional Court was asked to determine whether works of artistic creativity could be subjected to prosecution under sections 31 and 33 without infringing on provisions of the constitution.
Press Freedoms: 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 used the media to threaten violence against critics of the government. MMIP officials routinely threatened independent news organizations with the loss of their licenses for criticizing ZANU-PF and President Mugabe.
In contrast with the previous year, the government used accreditation laws to prevent entry into the country of international media organizations perceived to be critical of the authorities. Nevertheless, international media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC continued to operate from within the country. Foreign journalists noted that government agents followed them and prevented them from covering certain news events.
In March the MMIP prevented journalist Anita Powell from entering the country to cover the March referendum on the draft constitution. On July 25, immigration officials detained and deported Charles Omondi, a journalist with the Kenyan Nation Newspaper Group, for entering the country to cover the July 31 elections without the requisite accreditation.
Government-run media reported that more than 30 foreign journalists from different countries were accredited to cover the referendum and that over 200 foreign journalists from nearly 100 media organizations were accredited to cover the July 31 elections.
Despite threats and pressure from the government, independent newspapers continued to operate. Independent newspapers licensed by the Zimbabwe Media Commission, which oversees media regulation, registration, and accreditation, struggled under economic hardships. The Observer, which received a license in 2012, published fewer than 10 weekly issues in the course of the year. Four independent weeklies continued to operate, and all independent newspapers continued to criticize the government and conduct of the July elections.
During the year independent media vendors were threatened and copies of their newspapers confiscated.
On March 1, police raided and confiscated 180 radios from Radio Dialogue, then detained and questioned production manager Zenzele Ndebele before releasing her. On March 4, Ndebele appeared in court and was charged with possession of smuggled goods in contravention of the Customs and Excise Act. Ndebele was also charged with possession of a radio receiver without a valid Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) license, in contravention of the Broadcasting Services Act. In May the prosecutor refused to proceed with the case on the basis that there is no law that prohibits an individual from having many radio sets. In September police asked Ndebele to pay a fine and collect her radio sets.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. Star FM and ZiFM, both with close links to ZANU-PF and licensed to operate in 2011, continued broadcast operations. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, the two stations included independent voices in their programming.
There were no community radio stations licensed during the year despite previous years’ promises by government officials.
In early 2012 the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) called for applications for 14 local commercial radio licenses. Applications were due by February 29. Hearings for prospective applicants had not been held by September. The application fees included an initial fee of $2,500 and a public inquiry fee of $7,500. On being granted a license, prospective broadcasters were also expected to pay an annual license fee of $15,000.
The government-controlled ZBC, the country’s 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 satellite channels on the Wiztech decoder. A Wiztech decoder and satellite dish cost approximately $70 and allowed access (at no monthly charge) to France TV, Press TV, and many religious channels.
Cases of unlicensed owners of television sets that were referred to the Supreme Court in 2012 were still pending. 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: Both MDC and ZANU-PF supporters assaulted journalists during the year. International media groups reported that they had expressed concerns to the leadership of political parties and members of the government of national unity following the continued attacks on journalists from both political parties ahead of the July 31 elections.
On June 14, three assailants abducted and beat Mashonaland-based freelance journalist Paul Pindani. Police had not arrested any suspects in the case by year’s end.
On June 6, MDC-T security details detained Mashudu Netsianda, a reporter with the Chronicle newspaper. Netsianda was covering a meeting between former prime minister Tsvangirai and businessmen in Bulawayo. His notebook was confiscated and his recordings were deleted. The following day, MDC-T members assaulted Hebert Moyo, a reporter with the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, as he tried to report on MDC-T members protesting against the choice of candidate for their constituency. On June 8, MDC-T supporters in Masvingo harassed Bernard Mapwanyire, a reporter for the independent Masvingo Mirror newspaper, who was covering MDC-T primary elections. On June 18, ZANU-PF youth seized 40 copies of NewsDay, published by Alpha Media Holdings Private Limited, from newspaper vendor Emmanuel Mhorombe. The newspaper claimed that the youth were angered by the lead story headlined, “Coalition against Mugabe Grows.” On June 21, police and ZANU-PF security agents detained five journalists from both public and private media and reportedly forced them to delete their pictures and recordings.
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 May 7, police arrested Dumisani Muleya, the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent weekly newspaper, Owen Gagare, one of his reporters, and the newspaper’s secretary for publishing alleged falsehoods in a front-page story by Gagare in the newspaper’s April 26 edition. All three were held for seven hours in a Harare police station before being released. Police interrogated the two journalists about their sources for the story, which claimed that Morgan Tsvangirai had met secretly with senior military officers ahead of the coming elections. The journalists were released without charge.
On August 14, police detained and questioned Jan Raath, correspondent of The Times (UK), after his newspaper published a story alleging that the government had arranged a secret deal to export uranium raw materials to Iran for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Raath was questioned for two hours and released. On August 15, Raath returned to the Harare Central Police Station’s Law and Order Section, where he signed an affidavit detailing his contribution to the newspaper article after interrogation that lasted for an hour. He was released without further charges.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to use the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) to control media content and the 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.”
Newspapers also exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under criminal libel and security laws.
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 September 10, President Mugabe appointed Jonathan Moyo as minister of media and broadcasting services. Moyo had previously served in a similar position between 2000 and 2005 in which he presided over the enactment of the AIPPA, which allow government, through the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) to oversee media operations in the country. He had also implemented the Broadcasting Services Act, which liberalized the broadcast sector but with stringent content and registration conditions on potential broadcasters.
On September 2, Bernard Membe, Tanzanian foreign minister and head of the SADC election observer mission, in a final report on the July 31 elections, stated that foreign radio stations broadcasting in the country and the region should cease operations, as they were biased along political party lines. There were approximately three Zimbabwean radio stations based outside the country, including Short Wave Radio Africa and Radio Voice of the People, which were based in the United Kingdom, and Studio 7, which was based in the United States.
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.
The Media Council, established by the ZMC in 2012 to regulate the conduct of journalists, continued its activities but issued no public statements about its operations.
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 and 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 were widely available and nominally free from government interference. On September 27, the government gazetted Statutory Instrument 142 of 2013 on Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) Regulations establishing a central database of information about all mobile telephone users in the country. According to the human rights NGO Forum, the law will increase the ability of the state to monitor citizens and further restrict free speech. According to the law, telecommunications providers must establish a subscriber database of all SIM cardholders, connecting their phone number to their name, address, gender, nationality, and passport or identification number. The law obliges service providers to provide copies of this database regularly to the government, which will then establish its own central subscriber information database. Access to the database will be available for the purpose of law enforcement, upon the written request of a law enforcement agent, or for “safeguarding national security,” as well as for “undertaking approved educational and research purposes.”
The growth of mobile phone use has 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, 17 percent of the population used the internet in 2012, although many more individuals may had access through their mobile phones.
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 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 or 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.
State-run universities frequently cancelled scheduled events organized by foreign embassies and refused public lectures by senior foreign diplomats.
The government on occasion restricted human rights activists from using cultural platforms to criticize the ruling party, President Mugabe, or political violence. The Zimbabwe Censorship Board maintained its ban on the foreign-funded performance of the award winning play, No Voice, No Choice. The play was banned in August 2012, and an appeal to the Supreme Court was pending in October.