By Sij Ncube
HARARE, November 3, 2015 – ZIMBABWE police Tuesday issued a statement demonising state-owned Sunday Mail journalists, for publishing a story fingering an unnamed top cop in the wanton killing of elephants at Hwange as condemnation of their arrests grew worldwide.
Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa, Investigating editor Brian Chitemba and reporter Tinashe Farawo were arrested Monday, a day following the publication of a story which also linked an unidentified officials from the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management and business people of Asian origin.
In a statement obtained by Radio VOP, Zimbabwe Republic Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba, accused the three journalists of peddling falsehoods in order “to tarnish the image of the police.”
Charamba charged that instead of portraying successes scored by police in arresting poachers at Hwange National Park, the journalists concocted lies.
“The editor of The Sunday Mail and journalists cannot be allowed to hide behind the privilege of journalism to peddle falsehoods,” she said. “The Sunday Mail story is actually meant to overshadow the efforts made by the police in arresting suspects or perpetrators of these heinous acts. The ZRP respects the watchdog role of the media play in society, but we believe this role should not be abused be peddling falsehoods.”
Media activists and organisations however, roundly condemned the arrests, pointing it “was wrong for the ZRP to shoot the messenger.”
Zimbabwe Union of Journalist secretary general Foster Dongozi said: “Police should just arrest the poachers and not the journalists”.
The Zimbabwe National Editors Forum, acting chairperson, Njabulo Ncube, chipped in; it is a serious violation of section 61 and 62 of the Constitution which guarantees press freedom and of protection of sources.
“We urge the police to investigate and not to arrest in order to investigate. It is unhelpful and smacks of repression to arrest editors and journalists on issues that are not criminal but is part of their legitimate work, in this particular case, to expose the rot in our society,” said Ncube.
“The police must not cover up for its failures to protect Zimbabwe’s wildlife by threatening the media. There are better and more civilised ways of dealing with such cases than arresting and detaining journalists, for instance, the police could have lodging a complaint with the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe, or sought to engage the editor and his staff for the right of reply ostensibly to set the record straight.
“But be that as it may, the arrests appear to be a continuation of a worrying trend where journalists are arrested and ill- treated by police for carrying out their duties,” he said.
Police on Friday 23 October 2015 detained and interrogated three journalists in Rusape in Manicaland province.
The police detained senior freelance journalist Sydney Saize, Bernard Chiketo of The Daily News and Kenneth Nyangani, a correspondent for Newsday, for more than one hour after they apprehended them while covering a demonstration staged by some MDC-T party supporters outside Rusape Magistrates Court.
“But what is worrying with the latest arrests of the Sunday Mail journalists on the day they are supposed to be off cooling their feet after a fruitful week is that the development comes hard on the heels of a recent upsurge of increasingly hostile rhetoric against the media by authorities over perceived unwelcome and inconvenient coverage,” said Ncube.
He said calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the journalists, taking them to court is a waste of state resources and attempting to legitimize a charade.
Rashweat Mukundu, a Media and Development analyst, added his voice on the issue, saying police cannot use the media to investigate such heinous crimes as the poaching of wildlife, and if the police have a complaint against media they should use civil platforms and not force and threats as is the case. “The police action is an anathema to democracy in the 21st century. The protectors have become violators and such actions are a threat to the protection of Zimbabwe’s natural resources as the media is threatened from reporting on sensitive issues as poaching,” said Mukundu.