Media watchdog group MISA-Zimbabwe on Tuesday expressed concern that soldiers banned vendors from selling an independent newspaper last week, amid growing concerns that the media is once again facing a strict clamp down.
MISA-Zimbabwe said in a statement that soldiers from 42 lnfantry Battalion in Gutu last Friday banned vendors from selling Masvingo province weekly independent newspaper, The Mirror. This was apparently in connection with a story the paper published alleging that army personnel had beaten up people at Mupandawana growth point on Christmas Eve.
The story, which was published in the January 7 - 13, 2011 edition, was headlined 'Soldiers run amok'. It alleged that one soldier, Nxolise Ncube, was arrested for beating up a policeman during the incident. According to the article, Ncube was sentenced to one year in prison but the soldiers claim that Ncube's case was an 'isolated bar brawl'.
According to The Mirror's editor, Golden Maunganidze, vendors and news agents were threatened by soldiers at the Mupandawana growth point on Friday, after about 500 newspapers were delivered for circulation. Maunganidze told MISA-Zimbabwe that the papers were immediately returned to The Mirror's offices. He said that the occurrence was 'unfortunate' as the story was based on facts confirmed by the spokesperson for the army in the Province, Officer Kingston Chivave.
Maunganidze said that army officials have since been in contact with the paper to apologise for the incident and that The Mirror was back in circulation in Gutu on Monday.
According to MISA-Zimbabwe's State of the media report of 2010 the latter half of last year saw an increase in the number of cases involving arrests, assault and harassment of journalists. This has been in the wake of calls by Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that the nation should prepare for elections in 2011. The group added that the "upsurge in such cases appeared targeted at journalists working for the privately owned media."