Following incidents of journalists being obstructed in their work and a lawyer being attacked in Zimbabwe, media and lawyers’ associations are demanding that police respect their rights.
When police escorted 25 members of the Citizens Coalition for Change opposition party to a magistrate’s court Tuesday in Harare, some journalists were blocked from the courtroom.
The party members are facing charges of holding an illegal meeting that police on Saturday broke up with tear gas.
Journalists from two state-run media houses were permitted to cover the court hearing. But others, including Daniel Kachere, a news editor at Nhau/Indaba Online News, were turned away.
“It was rather appalling. It wasn’t a good decision by the police to allocate a certain media house the privilege to cover the event, he said. “The riot guys were in a no-nonsense mood. Some were actually threatening female journalists, threatening to rape them, and so forth. But a journalist is harmless.”
VOA’s calls to police for comment went unanswered. But in the past, police have said they act within the law while on duty.
Tabani Moyo, who heads the watchdog group Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) said he was troubled by the decision to bar some journalists from court proceedings.
“The constitution simply says every journalist has got the right to perform his or her duties within the jurisdiction of Zimbabwe,” he said. “We call all the arms of the state to treat all the media with the same lens, in terms of giving the media access to issues of public interest, so that they are able to cover those issues for the benefit of the citizens of the country.”
Moyo said the decision to block some media was unfair.
“Both officers of the court and the police should not apply directives that are aimed at discriminating members of the media,” he said.
Journalists are not the only professional group affected. Police are said to have assaulted lawyer Kudzai Kadzere last weekend after he was sent by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights to represent arrested opposition activists.
The Southern African Development Community Lawyers’ Association has since called on African Union leaders to request that Zimbabwean police cease interfering in the work of journalists and lawyers.
Stanley Nyamanhindi, executive secretary of the SADC Lawyers’ Association, said members of certain professions have a right to be protected.
“It is important that the government must take this seriously and move to protect members of the legal profession, and even the members of the journalism profession, who have come under attack recently,” he said. “Kudzai Kadzere is an officer of the court who has sworn allegiance to the courts of Zimbabwe. Police and [the] legal profession should in all circumstances work together in criminal matters so that the administration of justice can be seen to be done.”
Kazembe Kazembe, Zimbabwe’s home affairs minister in charge of police, told VOA via text message that he could not comment because he had not yet been briefed on the issues.
Nyamanhindi, who is based in Johannesburg, said the incidents are concerning ahead of elections expected to take place this year.
Media rights groups are also watching for signs of escalating tensions. MISA is hoping a solution is reached quickly so journalists can feel free to cover the elections.