Harare – President Robert Mugabe’s critics say he denies them freedom of expression but what about allowing the longtime president the right to exercise his?
That’s the contorted argument being put forward in the star letter of Tuesday’s Herald newspaper in Zimbabwe – and it demonstrates the lengths to which Mugabe supporters will go to defend a leader who is coming under the kind of pressure he’s never previously seen during his 36 years in power.
Reacting to widespread criticism from activists at the president’s attack on the judiciary earlier this month, letter-writer “John Sigauke” says Mugabe, 92, merely “expressed his opinion” and was exercising his own right to freedom of expression.
“President Mugabe still has a constitutional right to freedom of expression and opinion. He is still a human being like anybody else,” the letter reads.
Earlier this month Mugabe said Zimbabwe judges who’d given the go-ahead to protests were “negligent” and “reckless”. Churches and opposition officials have demanded he retract those statements.
There has long been a suspicion that Herald letters are written in-house or at least by members of Mugabe’s Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), since all printed correspondence to the paper reflects its overwhelmingly pro-Mugabe stance.
A quick Google search for “John Sigauke” shows he’s crossed swords with reporters in the private press before. He is also named as the author of pro-Zanu-PF columns on local news website Bulawayo24.
“Being a president of Zimbabwe… does not take away the president’s rights to express his personal opinion,” says “Sigauke”.
Mugabe insists the West is behind the current wave of on and off-line protests. Social media users in Zimbabwe have noticed a surge in the number of accounts set up by apparent Mugabe apologists, while many fear the proliferation of empty “egg” accounts reflects a new drive by the CIO to monitor Zimbabweans online.