Harare – At least 21 journalists have been assaulted, arrested or detained while covering anti-government protests in Zimbabwe in the last six months, a media watchdog has reported.
Among them was journalist James Jemwa, who spent almost a week in a top security prison after he was arrested while covering a demonstration against longtime President Robert Mugabe in Harare in August, MISA-Zimbabwe said.
Crispen Ndlovu, a photojournalist, had to be treated in a private clinic in Bulawayo in September after he was assaulted by riot police, also while covering a demonstration, the watchdog said in a statement.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba told a delegation of reporters who went to lodge an official complaint that police had “misgivings” about what she called “unprofessional conduct” by some journalists, the statement said.
Zimbabwe clamped down hard on the free press during the 2000-2008 political and economic crisis, relying mainly on the controversial AIPPA press laws to arrest dozens of local reporters and deport foreign journalists.
Attacks on the press eased during the 2009-2013 coalition government, seen as a time of hope and measured growth by many in Zimbabwe.
Mugabe was re-elected to power in 2013.
Frustration with his government and a fast-contracting economy boiled over into public protests this year between May and September, the time that the MISA-Zimbabwe review covers.
But with the pastor who started the protests now in exile and a police ban on demonstrations extended part-way into the month, there have been almost no protests in October.
Said MISA-Zimbabwe: “The police’s actions have a negative impact on citizens’ right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful demonstrations as well as media rights provided for in the constitution.”
This year US-based watchdog Freedom House named Zimbabwe as one of the countries that had suffered the largest decline in press freedom.