The IPI global network calls on authorities in Zimbabwe to drop charges against journalists Blessed Mhlanga and Chengeto Chidi, who were arrested on May 7 for violating electoral laws prohibiting people from taking photographs or videos at polling stations. IPI is concerned about the harassment of journalists by police and the misuse of electoral laws to prevent the press from reporting stories of public interest. We urge authorities to refrain from interfering with the work of the press.
Mhlanga and Chidi were arrested in Chitungwiza, a town located southeast of Harare as they recorded a video of an elected official being put under arrest by police, according to reports by MISA Zimbabwe. The journalists, who report for the national print media group Alpha Media Holdings (AMH), were working on a story on water challenges in the town when they observed the police in the process of arresting a local politician. As they were recording the incident, police officers physically assaulted Mhlanga and smashed his mobile phone to the ground.
The incident occurred near an election polling site during local authority by-elections that were taking place in wards around the country that weekend.
The journalists were arrested and charged with violating rules of the country’s electoral law that prohibit people from taking photographs or videos at polling stations, according to a statement by MISA Zimbabwe. They were also charged with disorderly conduct in the immediate vicinity of a polling station by allegedly refusing to comply with an order given by a local election official not to record a video.
“Authorities should drop the charges against Blessed Mhlanga and Chengeto Chidi and refrain from misusing electoral laws to restrict the work of the press”, IPI Director of Advocacy Amy Brouillette said. “The government should also ensure that authorities at all levels, including local police, are held accountable for any undue restrictions to press freedom, which includes destroying a reporter’s equipment and mobile phone”.
Mhlanga and Chidi have been released on bail and are scheduled to appear in court on May 24.