ALPHA Media Holdings (AMH)’s NewsDay deputy editor Nqaba Matshazi, reporter Xolisani Ncube and legal secretary Sifikile Thabete were yesterday arrested and locked up in cells at Harare Central Police Station on charges of publishing falsehoods, after the daily reported a story alleging secret payment of bonuses to the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).
On Wednesday, NewsDay reported that government last year clandestinely paid CIO operatives their salaries on December 21 before paying annual bonuses 10 days later despite postponing, several times, the payment of the rest of the civil servants.
About five plain clothes police officers swooped on NewsDay offices in Harare on Wednesday evening looking for Matshazi who was not present at the time.
When asked about the purpose of the visit, the police said they wanted to “talk” to Matshazi, who is currently the acting editor.
By end of yesterday, detention orders had been issued to Matshazi, Ncube and Thabete. Matshazi and Ncube are charged with contravening Section 31(1)(ii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which criminalises the publication of falsehoods.
The trio, who are being represented by Taona Nyamakura, a lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and Mzokhuthula Mbuyiso of Mtetwa & Nyambirai Legal Practitioners, are expected to appear in court today.
Media pressure groups condemned the arrests, describing them as “archaic” and “travesty of justice”.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists secretary-general Foster Dongozi said the arrest of journalists trampled on the freedom of expression.
“This is totally unacceptable on the part of the authorities. We condemn the arrest of journalists in the strongest of terms. They should not resort to archaic methods of arresting journalists, but follow the civil route of going to court,” Dongozi said.
“It is very embarrassing that exactly a week into the new year Zimbabwe is leading in media brutality and repression. We call on the authorities to exercise restraint and common sense.”
Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe chapter chairperson Kumbirai Mafunda said the harassment of journalists was uncalled for, adding institutions that seek redress should do so through the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe.
“It’s a continuation of unjustified harassment of journalists. There are better ways that aggrieved institutions can pursue to lodge their complaints than arresting journalists. It’s a path that Zimbabwe must not be following. We urge the police to discard this kind of behaviour,” he said.
The arrest of the trio comes barely two months after the arrest of state media journalists Mabasa Sasa, Brian Chitemba and Tinashe Farawo, who are now out on bail. The trio are alleged to have published falsehoods relating to a story which claimed that a top police officer was involved in the poaching of elephants.