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.” 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 physical abuse.
The ZLHR stated that by September it had assisted more than 106 individuals whom police had arrested 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 3, authorities at the Harare airport denied entry to the musical group Freshly Ground, scheduled to headline the annual Harare International Festival of the Arts. Authorities maintained the group filed their paperwork late, but the media widely reported the group’s 2010 hit song entitled “Chicken to Change,” which criticized President Mugabe, led to the decision.
On July 22, the Constitutional Court ruled that section 31 of the Criminal Law Act, which criminalizes publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state, was unconstitutional. Section 31 made the publication of false statements likely to undermine public confidence in the uniformed forces a crime punishable with a high fine and prison sentence of up to 20 years. In previous years authorities arrested and charged several journalists under the criminal code.
Press Freedoms: The government continued to restrict freedom of the press. The Ministry of Media, Information, and Publicity continued to control the state-run media tightly. High-ranking ZANU-PF officials used the media to threaten violence against critics of the government.
Despite threats and pressure from the government, independent newspapers continued to operate. The Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC), which conducts media regulation, registration, and accreditation licensed independent newspapers. During the year authorities threatened independent media vendors and confiscated copies of their newspapers. Security services also prevented print journalists from covering events that would expose government’s excesses.
On March 16, heavily armed police barred a news crew from an independent weekly newspaper, The Standard, from covering the eviction of more than 300 persons on a farm in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central Province. Authorities allegedly carried out the evictions to accommodate plans to expand Mugabe’s family holdings in the area. According to the newspaper, more than 50 police detained the news crew for an hour and interrogated them about their presence at the farm. Police also took their personal details including residential addresses and telephone numbers. Police seized the crew’s camera and deleted images of the eviction. Police then escorted the news crew back to the highway, returned their camera, and ordered them to leave.
In contrast with the previous year, the government appeared to relax accreditation laws used prior to prevent international media organizations’ entry into the country if those outlets were perceived to be critical of the authorities. International media outlets such as CNN, al-Jazeera, and the BBC continued to operate in the country.
Radio remained the principal medium of public communication, particularly for the rural majority. Star FM and ZiFM, both radio stations with close links to ZANU-PF and licensed to operate, continued broadcast operations. Despite their perceived allegiance to ZANU-PF, the two stations continued to include independent voices in their programming.
The government did not license any community radio stations during the year despite previous years’ promises by government officials to do so.
On June 17, state security agents raided the offices of Radio Kwelaz, a community radio initiative based in Kwekwe, Midlands Province. The agents accused Radio Kwelaz’ staff of broadcasting illegally. A human rights lawyer present during the raid said the security agents claimed to be searching for “subversive material.” Police confiscated compact discs, personal laptops and computers, and other property. On June 19, Radio Kwelaz resumed its operations after police and government inspectors from the Broadcasting Authority of Zimbabwe (BAZ) and Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe visited its offices and cleared it of the offense of broadcasting illegally.
In early 2012 the BAZ called for applications for 14 local commercial radio licenses. Applications were due in 2013. 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. Hearings for prospective applicants started in some provinces in August. Six of 18 applicants, however, withdrew their applications before the hearings, citing the high cost of the public inquiry fee and the perceived bias of the BAZ.
The government-controlled Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, 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 $50 and allowed access (at no monthly charge) to France TV, Press TV, and many religious channels.
Violence and Harassment: Security forces arbitrarily harassed and arrested journalists who reported unfavorably on government policies or security 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 August 18, police assaulted and detained photojournalist Angela Jimu, who was covering an opposition party-led demonstration. Jimu, who works for a privately owned daily newspaper, was photographing efforts by police to suppress the demonstration, including by assault on and arrest of demonstrators. Police seized her camera. Police later released Jimu without charge and returned her camera. An investigation into circumstances surrounding her assault and detention continued.
On October 22, media reported police assaulted and detained reporter Tapwia Zivira, who was video recording police operations against informal vendors in Harare. According to press reports, Zivira said police struck him with batons before detaining him for four hours and deleting his video recordings.
Both MDC and ZANU-PF supporters assaulted journalists during the year.
On January 22, a group of ZANU-PF supporters assaulted Daily News correspondent Godfrey Mtimba while he covered a Washington Young African Leaders Initiative presentation in Masvingo. Talent Majoni, ZANU-PF youth league national deputy commissar, and 30 others charged into the presentation and began harassing persons. Police made no arrests.
On February 16, MDC-T youth assaulted Watson Ofumeli, a photojournalist with The Zimbabwean Mail, while he covered a political rally in Harare. Authorities made no arrests in this case.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government continued to use the law to control media content and the licensing of journalists, even though many provisions of the law are inconsistent with the constitution. 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 June 6, President Mugabe accused Jonathan Moyo, minister of media and broadcasting services, of appointing opposition sympathizers as editors of state-owned newspapers. Moyo, whom President Mugabe appointed in September 2013, had previously served in a similar position between 2000 and 2005 during which time he presided over the enactment of the AIPPA, which allows government, through the 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. Moyo started his current term as minister aiming to mend relations with all media stakeholders.
On August 10, SW Radio Africa broadcast its last shortwave radio transmission. The station, established in 2001, broadcasted from London after the government blocked its attempt to set up in Zimbabwe following a court ruling that nullified ZBC’s monopoly on radio and television. Funding challenges contributed to the station’s downfall.
Libel Laws/National Security: The constitutional court ruled the constitution outlaws criminal defamation cases. Civil defamation laws remain in force. Criminal defamation laws, until repealed, remain on the statute books. 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.
Newspapers also exercised self-censorship due to government intimidation and the prospect of prosecution under criminal libel and security laws.
The Media Council continued its activities, but the establishment of the Information and Media Panel of Inquiry in December 2013, which conducted an independent inquiry closely tied to the Ministry of Media and Broadcasting Services, overshadowed its work.
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 law allowing the government to intercept and monitor communications.
Despite the restrictive environment for the traditional media, internet and mobile telephone communication in the country were widely available and nominally free from government interference.
On June 13, authorities repealed Statutory Instrument 142 of 2013 on Postal and Telecommunications (Subscriber Registration) regulations that established a central database of personal information about all mobile telephone users in the country. The repeal followed an adverse report by the Parliamentary Legal Committee, which observed the regulations were unconstitutional because they allowed state security agents to access mobile telephone users’ personal data without a court search warrant. Human rights organizations stated the repealed regulations would have increased the ability of the state to monitor citizens and further restrict free speech. Authorities replaced the repealed regulations with Statutory Instrument 95 of 2014, an updated version of the regulations that require a court warrant in order to release the information to law enforcement officers.
Although there was no concrete evidence of systematic internet filtering in the country, Freedom House reported some instances of surveillance and censorship.
On June 26, police arrested Edmund Kudzayi, editor of the government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper, on charges of “attempting to subvert a constitutionally elected government or alternatively attempting to commit an act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage, or terrorism.” The charges stemmed from posts he allegedly made on Facebook using an account under the name Baba Jukwa. Authorities also charged Kudzayi with undermining the president’s authority. Police reported they were also looking for 10 other individuals they believed to be administrators of the same Facebook account. On July 3, the High Court granted Kudzayi bail with conditions that included reporting twice daily at a police station in Harare and surrendering the password for his Gmail e-mail account. Police also arrested his brother, Phillip Kudzayi, and a university student, Romeo Musemburi, who allegedly emailed Baba Jukwa in 2013 urging an uprising against the government.
The growth of mobile telephone 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 might have 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.
On August 7 in Harare, police reportedly stopped the screening of the low budget film “Kumasowe” because the film dealt with a “sensitive issue.” The film documented the highly publicized violent clashes between members of a religious group and police officers in May.
The Zimbabwe Censorship Board maintained its ban on the foreign-funded performance of the award winning play No Voice, No Choice. Authorities banned the play in August 2012, and an appeal to the Supreme Court remained pending.