CHARLES LAITON/FELUNA NLEYA
NewsDay is one of the four titles published under the Alpha Media Holdings (AMH) stable.
The scribes, alongside company secretary Sifikile Thabete, reported to Harare Central Police Station in the morning following publication last week of the story of a three-year-old Harare boy, Neil Tanatswa Mutyora, who was fatally run over by a speeding commuter omnibus during a police chase.
They were summoned to appear at the Law and Order Section on Friday last week.
According to the charge preferred against the journalists, the story, titled ‘Chihuri you are responsible’, was meant to “incite public disorder or public violence or to endanger public safety”.
The lawyer representing AMH, Advocate Tonderai Bhatasara, said: “My clients were released on the understanding they would be called once the police are done with their investigations. They were, however, charged for contravening Section 31 (a) (1) of the Criminal Law [Codification and Reform] Act.
“In particular, they are being accused of publishing or communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the State with the intention of inciting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety arising from an article published on April 24 this year,” he said.
Bhatasara said the law under which the journalists were charged was struck off the register some time ago by the Supreme Court in a case involving two other journalists, AMH Editor-in-Chief Vincent Kahiya and former NewsDay editor Constantine Chimakure.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi said the arrests were part of systematic harassment of journalists by State security agents.
“This kind of behaviour is appalling given that the issue is being handled at the Law and Order level. We cannot make sense of the detention because the government has put in place an inquiry to look into the operations of the media and how it is affected,” Dongozi said.
“We still continue to say the arrest and the detention of the journalists as if they were criminals cannot be excused. It is such activities that continue to attract unnecessary negative publicity for the country and we will continue to be labelled a pariah State because of some ill-advised authorities.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe national director Nhlanhla Ngwenya also bemoaned the arrest which he said was an attack on the journalism profession.
“For us, it underlines the hazards that continue to exist for journalists operating in this country despite a new constitutional dispensation,” Ngwenya said.
He said the arrest had happened within a week of another incident in Bulawayo where Radio Dialogue offices were raided by the law enforcement agents searching for broadcasting equipment.
“All these incidents send a chilling effect on journalists and if we are going to have arms of the State clearly disregarding the provisions of the Constitution, who then will be the custodian of the charter?” Ngwenya queried.
“We strongly call upon the authorities to act on these matters and the abuse of authority in trying to intimidate the media to make them stay away from matters of public interest. It is only then that the new Constitution can make practical sense not only to the media, but the generality of Zimbabweans.”
Zimbabwe National Editors’ Forum chairperson Brian Mangwende urged the police not to criminalise journalism.
“We encourage the police to exercise or use a civil route instead of criminalising the profession. We also call upon parliamentarians to urgently realign the archaic laws into the new Constitution,” Mangwende said.
Meanwhile, the deceased boy’s parents yesterday said they had engaged a lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) in an effort to ensure the culprit who caused their son’s death was brought to book.
Cuthbert Mutyora, Neil’s father, yesterday went to the accident scene at the intersection of Chinhoyi Street and Kwame Nkrumah Avenue to personally probe what transpired on the fateful day.
“We want to go the legal route and I have since approached the Zimbabwe Lawyers Human Rights to help us. After visiting the scene, I now have a clearer picture as to what happened,” Mutyora said.
“I am pleading with the police to investigate the issue and get the police officer who did that and get him to come to court too, then I can start attending the court sessions. I talked with the vendors and touts at the scene and they all spoke with one voice that a police officer who is well known hit the kombi on the rear screen, that is when the driver panicked and started the kombi and that is when he hit my son.”
ZLHR in a statement last week noted with concern the growing number of incidents whereby members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police have been blamed for causing many traffic accidents in their pursuit of “errant” motorists.Newsday