December 19, 2008 - WPFC letter to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe
December 19, 2008
President Robert G. Mugabe
Office of the President
Samora Machel Avenue
Box 7700 Causeway
Dear Mr. President:
The World Press Freedom Committee (www.wpfc.org) — an organization representing 45 press freedom groups from throughout the world— is profoundly distressed by the systematic repression the Zimbabwean independent media is subject to by agents of your own government, including judicial harassment, threats, intimidation campaigns and also abductions, such as that of independent photojournalist Shadreck Manyere.
According to press reports, Mr. Manyere was abducted on Saturday, Dec. 13, from a car garage in Norton, 40 km. west of Harare, where he went after receiving a phone call from a person who wanted to meet him. That was the last time Mr. Manyere was seen.
According to information provided to WPFC, on Sunday, Dec. 14, a group of men identifying themselves as members of the Law and Order section of police went to his home and requested to search it alleging that Mr. Manyere had died in a car accident. His wife refused to let them in, but they returned shortly afterward with a search warrant. Then they proceeded to ransack the house and took his laptop, video camera and some tapes with them.
We must emphasize that Mr. Manyere’s is only one of a number of abductions of political activists, human rights workers and journalists reported in recent days and that such extra-legal abductions must cease if Zimbabwe is to be seen as a country that respects the rule of law, both in terms of its own national legislation and in terms of international legal standards by which Zimbabwe is bound.
On a separate incident, your chief spokesperson, George Charamba, has threatened to ban the accreditation of all members of the foreign media, accusing them of “playing little gods” on the country’s affairs and of having embarked on a propaganda assault on Zimbabwe. The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) has stated that Mr. Charamba “was on a war path after accusing the foreign bureaus accredited in Zimbabwe of quoting President Robert Mugabe out of context, following his Dec. 11 remarks that the country had ‘arrested’ the cholera outbreak.”
According to MISA , the foreign media outlets that are under threat of being banned include “Britain's Reuters, Agence France Presse, Associated Press of the USA, France 24 International and Al Jazeera from Qatar, which are accused of misrepresenting facts about Zimbabwe to suit the agendas of the news organisations' host nations.”
Mr. President, your country is going through the worst crisis in its history. Zimbabwe, the former breadbasket of southern Africa, is on the brink of famine and suffering the worst cholera epidemic in memory. The country’s economy has melted away, with hyperinflation rates so astronomical they are hard to comprehend. In these critical times, a free and independent media seeking the truth and duly informing the public constitutes a critical component of any dreams of recovery.
The Zimbabwean independent media, however, live in perpetual fear of fulfilling their moral, professional and constitutional duty to keep society informed about matters of, all too often, life or death in a country where the most basic civic rights are systematically violated.
The harassment and abduction of members of the media represent grave violations of free speech and freedom of the press, rights that are protected in the Zimbabwean Constitution and in international covenants, such as the African Convention on Human and Peoples' Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which your country is signatory.
Therefore, Mr. President, we urge you to put the necessary measures in place to guarantee that the members of your country’s independent media, both national and international, can fulfill their duty to keep the public informed without any fears for their safety or their lives.
E. Markham Bench
World Press Freedom Committee
CC: To the members of the Coordinating Committee of Press Freedom Organizations:
Committee to Protect Journalists
Commonwealth Press Union
Inter American Press Association
International Association of Broadcasting
International Federation of the Periodical Press
International Press Institute
North American Broadcasters Association
World Association of Newspapers
World Press Freedom Committee
To the members of the Zimbabwean government and national and international media.