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Unlawful detention and harassment of Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe personnel

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 7 December 2011 - In solidarity with Zimbabwean civil society, ARTICLE 19 strongly condemns the arrest and continued detention of staff from the organisation Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe.

Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe (MMPZ) advocacy officers Molly Chimhanda and Fadzai December, together with MMPZ member Gilbert Mabusa, were arrested on 5 December 2011 in the city of Gwanda. Barely a day after their arrest, police officers from the Law and Order department in Harare visited the MMPZ offices with a search warrant, searched the office and detained MMPZ coordinator Andrew Moyse for questioning. Moyse was later released after hours of interrogation.

According to information released by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (MAZ), the trio arrested in Gwanda are being charged under Section 25(1)(b) of the Public Order and Security Act for allegedly, "participating in a gathering without seeking authority from the regulating authority" and for contravening section 37(1)(b) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, for allegedly "participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry."

Their arrest follows a meeting they facilitated on 24 November 2011 at which they distributed a film on DVD calling on the media to promote a peaceful electoral process. MAZ further states that the arrest of the three MMPZ staff should not be viewed in isolation but within an increasing crackdown on independent media organisations, which is aimed at insulating public officials from scrutiny and blocking unflattering information about their conduct from flowing into the public domain.

ARTICLE 19 calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the three MMPZ staff members.

ARTICLE 19 joins MAZ's calls for the repeal or extensive amendment of Zimbabwean laws that violate international standards on the rights to freedom of expression and information. These include the Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, the Criminal law (Codification and Reform) Act, the Broadcasting Services Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Interception of Communications Act. We also call on the Zimbabwe Media Commission to step up and vigorously defend the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the media, especially as the country prepares itself for the upcoming general election.

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