International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists

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Zimbabwe Human Rights Association Press Statement
International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists “Justice for Journalists: A Foundation for Freedom of Expression.”

Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) joins  the rest of the world in commemorating the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. The day is celebrated on November 2nd each year to raise awareness of the issue of impunity for crimes against journalists and to advocate for the safety of journalists and the protection of their right to freedom of expression.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2 November as the ‘International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists’ in General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/163. The Resolution urged Member States to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity. The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on 2 November 2013.

This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges Member States to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.

Over the past few years, Zimbabwe has witnessed a prevailing culture of impunity and rising cases of harassment of media practitioners ahead of the 2023 general elections. Journalists in Zimbabwe have experienced a wide range of abuses including arrests, harassments, and assaults by both the state security agents and supporters of political parties in the course of doing their legitimate work. Most of the journalists attacked were covering politics, corruption, security and justice.

Investigative journalist Ruvimbo Muchenje, who works for a digital platform The News Hawks, was assaulted by security officials from the Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC) political party on September 11 2022, as she tried to enter the venue where the party was holding a rally in Chinhoyi, central northern Zimbabwe.

Also Hopewell Chin’ono an investigative journalist and human rights defender was arrested three times in six months with one of the charges being  for “incitement to commit public violence” in relation to posts he had published on social media calling on citizens to participate in anti-corruption demonstrations in July 2021 throughout the country. Many journalists including  Blessed Mhlanga, Chengeto Chidi, Toneo Rutsito, Pellagia Mpurwa,  Godwin Mangudya, Moreblessing Nyoni and Desmond Chingarande were all victims of the impunity caused by state security agents and other political parties.

Attacks on journalists and media personnel are deliberate attempts to stop the free flow of information within our society. There are even reports of unwarranted surveillance of journalists. The attacks which often go unpunished are some of the greatest hindrances to freedom of expression. Silencing journalists deprives the public of the right to know. To know of corruption. To know of abuses of state power. To know of service provision. To just know.

As we celebrate this day 8 years have passed since the disappearance of journalist and human rights activist Itai Dzamara who was abducted on March 9, 2015. He has not been heard from since, which constitutes as a continued violation of the victim’s rights and an abdication of the state’s procedural obligation to protect the right to life.

To speak of impunity for crimes against journalism and not address the unique plight of female journalists would also be an injustice. Female journalists face the constant threat of gender-based violence and harassment. On social media and in newsrooms, female journalists routinely receive insulting and threatening messages from trolls, unnamed characters and fellow male journalist. Recently the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) suspended its Director of Radio Services, Robson Mhandu, following allegations that he demanded sexual favors from a female employee.The case has drawn attention to the issue of sexual harassment in the media industry.

Last year the country lost a champion and gender advocate  Abigail Gamanya. Gamanya dedicated her career to support young female journalists to get protection in the country’s hostile media environment. Abigail was well known for her active participation in the fight against sexual harassment in the newsroom, and her role in helping craft gender policies for various media organisations.

However, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), “Although levels of violence against journalists have declined significantly under the [Emmerson] Mnangagwa administration, they remain alarmingly high and self-censorship is routinely practised to avoid reprisals. The police often use disproportionate force and confiscate equipment. Acts of intimidation, verbal attacks and threats (especially on social media) are all still common practices”.

On the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists,  ZimRights condemns all forms of attacks and violence against journalists as well as any other media workers. We call on the government of Zimbabwe, media houses and media stakeholders:

  • To prevent violence against journalists,
  • To create a safe and enabling environment for journalists to do their work,
  • To investigate and prosecute all crimes against journalists,
  • To initiate concrete policies to protect journalists as they carry out their work,
  • To sensitize members of the police and other security services personnel on the importance of freedom of journalists.

Journalists and the media fulfill a vital role in society, upholding and enabling democracy and holding those in power to account. They are essential to strong and accountable institutions and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Today and every day, we are grateful to the journalists and all media professionals who risk their health and lives to keep us informed, and to keep the truth alive.

Issued by the ZimRights Information Department