Media violations and victories: Assaulted

The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers this afternoon intentionally shot three teargas canisters into occupied offices belonging to 263Chat, a local media organisation based in Harare.

Lovejoy Mutongwiza a reporter with 263Chat was covering a joint operation by the ZRP working with the Harare municipal police to arrest vendors operating in a vicinity of the 263Chat offices.

Mutongwiza says a uniformed police officer asked him to stop taking pictures of the operation. As Mutongwiza was complying with this order, a mob of what appeared to be plain clothed police officers started running towards the reporter. Mutongwiza says he ran for the safety of their offices fearing for both his life and that of his equipment.

A handful of uniformed police officers and an estimated ten plain clothed municipal officers pursued Mutongwiza all the way to his offices. Upon getting to the offices, one of the police officers fired a teargas canister directly at Mutongwiza striking him with the projectile on the abdomen.

Two other canisters were thrown into the offices as some of the officers barricaded the doors preventing 263Chat from escaping the offices. According to 263Chat’s Nigel Mugamu, staff was left with no choice but to escape through the building’s windows.

The law enforcement officers also confiscated a mobile phone used by 263Chat staff to record the attack on their offices. He also added that during the entire attack none of the officers produced a search warrant or any proof of identification.

Mutongwiza reported the matter at the Harare Central Police station and the complaint was recorded as file number I.R. 040399. He has also sought medical attention for the injuries he suffered.

MISA Stance:

MISA Zimbabwe condemns the attack against Mutongwiza and the 263Chat offices. Police officers and local municipality officers are expected to be the guardians of the law and not violate it by carrying out unwarranted searches and seizures. The police is reminded of its duty to uphold and promote the enjoyment of rights which include the rights to media freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution.

Government is also encouraged to set up the complaints mechanism set out in Section 210 of the Zimbabwe Constitution. This section calls for the establishment of an independent body that will receive and investigate complaints of violations committed by members of the security forces.

This is important in ending State impunity as past experience has shown that the police are hesitant to investigate complaints by journalists against media rights violations committed by the law enforcement agents, the military or other members of the State security forces.