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Free expression abuses pervasive under power-sharing agreement

Zimbabwe's power-sharing agreement recognised the right to freedom of expression last year, but the media remain muzzled and journalists continue to face intimidation and arrest, report IFEX members.

The Global Political Agreement took effect on 11 February 2009, and was approved in 2008 by the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), the ruling party led by Robert Mugabe, and by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the former opposition. It was created to resolve Zimbabwe's political and economic crisis. But it has failed and "Mugabe and ZANU-PF are still fully in control," says Human Rights Watch.

ZANU-PF continues to brutally attack any opposition and there is no free flow of information. According to Human Rights Watch, in early February, police broke up MDC-organised constitutional reform meetings, assaulted participants, and arbitrarily arrested 143 people across three districts. There are no independent newspapers or radio stations. Not one license for independent media outlets has been issued since the power-sharing government was created.

The ZANU-PF party uses state-owned print and electronic media as a mouthpiece to garner public support while it hurls hate speech at MDC, says Human Rights Watch. And the party still uses security forces as instruments of repression, refusing to allow them to be reformed.

As part of this assault on press freedom, the distributors of a privately owned newspaper, "The Zimbabwean" - edited in Britain and printed in South Africa - were arrested on 10 February, hit with criminal charges of "publishing falsehoods" and then released, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The two distributors, Barnabas Madzimure and Fortune Mutandiro, were detained in connection to a story about an alleged splinter group taking control of ZANU-PF, published in January.

"This is all the more disturbing as the national unity government formed a year ago said it intended to guarantee press freedom," said RSF.

A freelance journalist who wrote for "The Zimbabwean", Stanley Kwenda, fled Zimbabwe in mid-January after receiving a death threat from a high-ranking police officer in response to an article that was critical of him, report the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and other IFEX members. Kwenda is a member of MISA-Zimbabwe's Harare Advocacy Committee and the director of Artists for Democracy Zimbabwe Trust (ADZT). At the same time, freelance photojournalist Andrison Manyere was arrested on 18 January while covering a demonstration for better education by members of the Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise pressure groups. He is currently free on bail.

And on 16 February, a foreign journalist from Mexico was detained while attempting to film tourist attractions, reports the International Press Institute. "The Zimbabwean government... needs to sensitise police and intelligence agents to the rights of journalists. It is unacceptable for criminal and security legislation to be used as tools for jailing reporters."

"Without an open media environment, Zimbabweans will be unable to participate fully in the ongoing constitutional reform process or in future elections," said Human Rights Watch.

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