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Zimbabwe Detains 2 Journalists for Breaking COVID Lockdown Rules

Journalists Samuel Takawira and Frank Chikowore stand with a police detective outside a court in Harare, Zimbabwe, May 23, 2020. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

A court in Zimbabwe has jailed two journalists who are charged with breaking the country's COVID-19 lockdown regulations. Rights lawyers say the arrests confirm their fears that freedom of the press in Zimbabwe remains in dire jeopardy.

Paidamoyo Saurombe of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who is representing journalists Frank Chikowore and Samuel Takawira, said Saturday the magistrate court would hold the men until it makes a bail ruling Tuesday.

“It is disturbing. These are journalists who were in the course of what they should do when they were arrested. So, it is quite surprising. Why would you arrest someone who is going to work? You never know. It becomes scary that if you are arrested while going to work, what else will happen?” Saurombe asked.

According to court papers, the two journalists broke COVID-19 regulations when they entered a hospital to interview three members of the political opposition who were being treated for injuries sustained after being abducted and tortured by suspected security agents.

Dewa Mavhinga, the southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said Harare must drop the charges against the journalists.

“Failure to do so severely undermines any image of Zimbabwe as under a new dispensation and reaffirms the sense that Zimbabwe is now a pariah or rogue state that is not respectful of the rights of journalists, of the constitutional rights to the freedom of the media. There is need to ensure that journalists, in the course of [the performance of] their duties are free to do their work without fear that the police will arrest them without cause,” Mavhinga said.

Zimbabwe’s minister of information, Monica Mutsvangwa, told VOA that she would only comment on the matter after the courts have completed the case.

Tabani Moyo, who the Media Institute in Southern Africa in Zimbabwe, called it an assault on the country's press.

“Journalism is in the line of fire. There is a daily threat when you are a journalist in Zimbabwe. For us to defeat this pandemic – we have said it again and again – all hands should be on the deck, focusing on the pandemic rather than pointing in a misplaced manner at what is presumed to be the weaker targets; that is the media,” Moyo said.

Rights groups say they have recorded 14 cases of harassment of journalists and nearly 300 cases of citizen assaults by Zimbabwe authorities since late March when the government imposed a lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic.