For the first time, journalists working for the state media have been charged under Zimbabwe's repressive media laws. The editor of the Chronicle newspaper in Bulawayo, Brezhnev Malaba, has been charged by a magistrate with defamation, for a story that linked the police to corruption.
The author of the story, Nduduzo Tshuma a staffer at the newspaper, was also charged. He had written an article that alleged that members of the police were involved in a Grain Marketing Board maize scandal.
Bulawayo magistrate John Masimba ruled on Tuesday that Malaba and Tshuma contravened Section 96 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act, for publishing the story that police and GMB officials had diverted maize to the black market.
The police arrested Malaba and Tshuma following the publication of the story in February, saying that the article was defamatory and portrayed the police in bad light.
Both were not asked to plead when they appeared before magistrate Masimba. They were remanded out of custody to 19th May for trial. The President of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists, Matthew Takaona, told us the charges against the Chronicle duo raises eyebrows, because police have not made any effort to investigate allegations leveled against their own.
'They should first exonerate themselves by instituting an enquiry to investigate the serious allegations. If they had an issue with the journalists they could have approached the newly constituted voluntary media council with their complaint,' Takaona said.
He added; 'This is worrisome to us because we have not seen this before. It's unheard of for the police to sue or charge journalists from the state media. Before, if they had an issue, they usually approached the editor or Minister of Information in private to discuss such problems.'
The ZUJ President said they would demand a meeting with Information Minister Webster Shamu, to protest against the charges. He said ZUJ will fully support Malaba and Tshuma and will also forward its protest to the police authorities.
This is the first time since the promulgation of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the Broadcasting Services Act and the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that staffers from a state-controlled newspaper have been charged for media offences. Since the promulgation of the laws in 2000 the police have only arrested journalists from independent publications.
Zimbabwe has some of the harshest media laws in the world, passed in 2000. Journalists face up to 20 years in jail for 'publishing false information or statements that are prejudicial to the state or are likely to cause, promote, or incite public disorder, or adversely affect the security or economic interests of the country'.