ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) joins in the global observance of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2020 and calls for an end to the rising wave of media freedom violations targeting journalists executing their professional duties.
World Press Freedom Day is a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to media freedom, a day to assess the state of media freedom and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty. On this day, all relevant stakeholders are also called upon to continue to defend the media from attacks on their independence. ZLHR recognises the sacrifices of media professionals who are on the frontline to ensure the free flow of information in the fight against the distortion of truth especially during the period of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic.
This year, World Press Freedom Day is commemorated under the theme, “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”. This theme emphasises the need to ensure that media practitioners are protected by the law, for them to execute their duties professionally and ethically without being subordinate to some ulterior agendas or being captured. With this protection they can act without fear of any repercussions and meaningfully fulfil their constitutional mandate.
With the world facing an unprecedented health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed some authoritarian governments to suppress media freedom by imposing restrictive measures that would hinder the ability of media practitioners to carry out their duties without fear or favour.
During the national lockdown period, that started on 30 March, several media practitioners have been arrested, detained and harassed by some enforcement officers on allegations of practising journalism.
All these hurdles stand in the way of efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which should be allowed since the media plays a significant role to ensure the free flow of information critical in keeping people informed including sharing information which people should take to prevent infections and the spread of COVID-19.
In recent weeks, ZLHR has recorded some incidences where free speech is increasingly being criminalised through the arrest of people charged with undermining authority of or insulting the president with the ultimate aim of suppressing dissent. Others have also been charged with peddling falsehoods prejudicial to the state.
This conduct and persecution of citizens shows that this government has failed to roll back the regime of persecution and censorship that were the hallmarks of the previous repressive era.
ZLHR is saddened that Zimbabwe is still saddled with an arsenal of repressive media and criminal laws despite a public commitment by government to repeal some of these laws. Seven years after the enactment of the Constitution, those in authority have failed to implement key media reforms.
For ZLHR, World Press Freedom Day commemorations should be an opportunity for government to re-commit to implementing comprehensive media reforms that remain outstanding and to ensure that people have access to diverse information to assist them to participate and make choices about governance, social and economic issues.
Driven by our mandate of fostering a culture of human rights, ZLHR calls upon;
- All state and non-state actors to stop interfering with the operations and the practice of journalism;
- Government to urgently remove restrictions on freedom of expression and access to information and harmonise all laws with the Constitution;
- Government to liberalise the airwaves and licence community radio stations.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
No. 103 Sam Nujoma Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: (+263 8677005347, +263 242 764085/705370/708118
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