Nine journalists were arrested and detained to be later released after 3 hours detention without charge. The zealous police officers and security inteligence swooped on them for only being present around ZEC offices, as they fear demonstrations against the exclusion of MDC Alliance on the ongoing consultative processes.
The unfortunate move occurred after five political activists demonstrated against the unconstitutional exclusion of the MDC Alliance input by the electoral body. They were demonstrating against selective application of the law which seems to favour other political players and excluding the MDC Alliance.
The MDC Alliance protesters and journalists who were arrested were outside ZEC provincial offices corner third and Jason Moyo, Harare. MDC Alliance protesters were demonstrating against the unconstitutional exclusion of the MDC Alliance representatives from a ZECzim stakeholder meetings.
Zimbabwe Police forcibly ordered the scribes to get into a white D4D truck even after identifying themselves as journalists. The police further threatened they were going to beat up the media practitioners.
Zimbabwe Human Rights Lawyers Mhike said, ”The journalists were detained for just about 3 hours on very spurious grounds.” Mhike continued, ”We tried to ascertain the grounds upon which the journalists have been detained and we were not informed.” As Mhike was addressing journalists outside Harare Central Police Station, two members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, one in uniform and another without came nose diving chasing them away from the Harare Central police Station.
”Vabate vauye pano apa! Ibvai muyende ku rank! Ibvai pano apa!!, they shouted.”
What happened however shows disdain for the profession of journalists. Speaking to the Zimbabwe Online Content Creators chairperson Mr Toneo Rutsito bemoaned the development saying
“Journalism is not a crime, the deployed police officers criminalised the act of journalism, this is sad and deplorable, they knew very well that they were arresting journalist and continued to do so and detained them illegally only to release them without charge It’s another sad day in journalism”
Contacted for comment however, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) spokesperson Assistant commissioner Paul Nyathi said call me later as he was tied up with the Zimbabwe Agricultural Show proceedings. Nevertheless AssComm Nyathi said ”I have secured the release of the journalists.” Thankfully the top cop intervened but the move could have been avoided in the first place. The Executive suspended the elections taking away the independence of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec). Despite Zec having developed the COVID-19 policy on electoral activities with clear guidelines on how by-elections and other electoral activities would be conducted under COVID19, by-elections have remained illegally suspended. By-elections are a litmus test to Zec’s preparedness for the 2023 harmonised elections. Responsible authorities must ensure that when by-elections are held, they are conducted in a transparent, accountable and credible manner that boosts the confidence of electoral stakeholders.
Currently, COVID-19 is not the only pandemic affecting the delivery of credible elections. The failure to adhere to constitutional principles that are foundational to credible elections is another pandemic that is threatening democratic principles. It is worrisome that some citizens are currently unrepresented in Parliament and local authorities. Section 1 of the Constitution states that Zimbabwe is a unitary, democratic and sovereign republic and is bound by principles of good governance which include free, fair and regular elections according to section 2(b)(ii).
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been called upon to carry out his mandate of proclaiming by-elections since there is no court order setting aside the elections. Holding of by-elections must be preceded by the implementation of electoral reforms as the holding of by-elections without reforms poses a threat to the credibility and acceptability of electoral outcomes.
Be that as it may, MDC-T secretary-general Paurina Mpariwa confirmed that her party was invited for the stakeholder meeting today. “The meeting is there Thursday (today) and we will be sending one person from the province,” Mpariwa said.
The MDC Alliance said the latest development was confirmation of the lack of independence on the part of Zec and the need for electoral reform. “We decry partisan conduct that serves the interests of the regime in Harare. The MDC Alliance is the biggest political party in the nation. There is no lawful excuse for barring it from stakeholder engagement,” MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere said.
“We are the only political party that has put forward an alternative Electoral Bill. In line with our reform agenda, we have published our principles for reliable, inclusive and credible elections in Zimbabwe as an alternative to the present electoral policies that do not bode well for democracy.”
She added: “The only explanation for this unusual conduct by Zec is that they (officials) are being unconstitutionally influenced to try and decimate the main opposition to serve the interests of a few elites. The people will not allow this to happen. “The citizens are converging for change and a resounding six million strong victory for the people’s president, advocate Nelson Chamisa.”
Some political analysts say snubbing of Chamisa’s party confirmed the allegations that Zec was partisan as it is not for Zec to determine who is and who is not a political party. Their responsibility is to invite political parties to their stakeholder meetings, regardless of the factions or divisions those parties may be having. Essentially, barring the MDC Alliance makes Zec an interested party in the fights in the mainstream opposition.
Zec spokesperson commissioner Joyce Kazembe did not explain why it singled out the MDC Alliance for exclusion when cases before the courts are between the MDC formations. Kazembe said the electoral management body was not responsible for registering political parties, but only acknowledged their existence. In a leaked internal Zec memo, the commission said it was awaiting instructions from “powers that be” to come up with a position on whether to invite the MDC Alliance.
“Now that we have started planning for stakeholder engagements, what is our position on MDC Alliance? We are aware that they have taken us to court and the courts do not recognise them,” the letter, addressed to the acting chief executive officer Jane Chigidji by an official on Sundudza TM, read in part.
Simply put, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has excluded the opposition MDC Alliance from its provisional consultations in provinces meant to discuss electoral developments at the behest of “powers that be”, a development critics say exposes its lack of independence.
The commission is rolling out programmes to discuss, among other issues, the electoral concerns, the legal framework, the electoral cycle, voter registration, delimitation and the polling process in preparation for future elections. It has invited other political parties, including the Douglas Mwonzora-led MDC-T.
This is the main reason why five activists camped at the ZEC provincial offices and later 9 journalists were arrested for doing their job before ZRP Assistant Commissioner secured their release in good faith.
The journalists arrested and later on released without charge were Leo Munhede, Thomas Madhuku, Nyashadzashe Ndoro, Robert Tapfumaneyi, Marshal Bwanya, Gaddaffi Wells, Adrian Maratu, Tongai Mwenje and Tinashe Muringai. Denford Ngadziore was amongst the arrested five MDC Alliance protesters and activists arrested earlier way before the journalists were arrested.