Harare-As the continent celebrates Africa Day on 25 May 2020, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has condemned the harassment of media practitioners by state security agents in SADC countries during the national coronavirus lockdown and urged the respective governments to view media as part of the ecosystem of essential services.
In its regional statement on Monday, MISA said: “SADC, as a regional body, must take the unequivocal position and assertion that the media is an essential service in the fight against COVID-19.”
MISA Zimbabwe also urged the respective governments in SADC to ensure that state security agents and independent commissions, respectively, investigate all cases of journalists who were either assaulted, harassed, or arrested while conducting their constitutionally guaranteed responsibilities during the national coronavirus lockdown with the aim to discipline the perpetrators.
MISA Zimbabwe has advised SADC to hold a strong position in defencing media freedom, freedom of expression and right to access to information as procured for in the African Union (AU) protocols and instruments such as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; the AU’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information as well as respective regional countries’ constitutions, among others.
MISA Zimbabwe also revealed that between 31 March and 15 April 2020, it recorded 15 cases of journalists either being assaulted or arrested during their operations in Zimbabwe, hence it took MISA Zimbabwe’s court application to stop media violation by the police.
MISA gave the following as an example of journalists who were arrested for their failure to comply or obey without substantive cause, the instructions by a police officer: “On 22 May 2020, journalists Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira were arrested at a clinic in Harare where three opposition MDC Alliance officials are being treated following their alleged abduction and torture after staging a demonstration.
“Chikowore and Takawira who spent a night in police custody were on 23 May 2020 denied bail and remanded in custody to 26 May 2020 on charges of breaching Section 11 (b) of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 in terms of the COVID-19 regulations when they appeared before the court in Harare’s suburb of Mbare.”
Meanwhile, MISA Zimbabwe has rightfully noted in its analysis that the recently gazetted Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill seeks to entrench state surveillance of citizens.