Zimbabwe: detained media monitoring activists are 'prisoners of conscience'

Amnesty International said today it considers three Zimbabwean human rights activists arrested this week to be “prisoners of conscience” and called for their immediate and unconditional release.

The three, from the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, which promotes freedom of expression and responsible journalism, were arrested on Monday in Gwanda, Matabeleland South Province and are awaiting a judgment on their bail application, which is due tomorrow (Friday). They are being held at Gwanda Remand Prison.

Fadzai December and Molly Chimhanda, employees of the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ), and a member of the organisation, Gilbert Mabusa, were arrested at Gwanda police station following a request by police that they went to the station to answer questions in relation to a meeting convened by the organisation last month.

Appearing at the police station with their lawyer, the three were charged with contravening Zimbabwe’s Public Order and Security Act, for allegedly “participating in a gathering without seeking authority from the regulating authority”, and also for allegedly contravening the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, by “distributing material that is likely to provoke a breach of peace.”

Meanwhile, on 6 December, the MMPZ Coordinator Andrew Moyse was picked up from the organisation’s Harare offices by four officers from the Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police for allegedly possessing material on Gukuruhundi - a 1980s government security operation in parts of Matabeleland and Midlands provinces which resulted in the killing and maiming of thousands of civilians by the security forces.  The police, who had a search warrant, also confiscated DVDs from the organisation’s premises. Andrew Moyse was subject to several hours of interrogation before being released without charge.

Amnesty International Africa Programme Director Erwin van der Borght said:

“The detained activists were arrested solely for their legitimate work advocating for media reforms and freedom of expression in Zimbabwe

“We consider them to be prisoners of conscience and are calling for their immediate and unconditional release.

“The arrests and detention of Fadzai December, Molly Chimhanda and Gilbert Mabusa, and questioning of Andrew Moyse are  symptomatic of systematic harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders by the police and other state security organisations which has continued under Zimbabwe’s Government of National Unity.

“The authorities must immediately call a halt to such harassment and respect the rights of human rights defenders facilitating dialogue on key national issues including media, security sector and legal reforms.”

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