HARARE police on Saturday disrupted a peaceful march organised by the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (ZACRAS) and the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe to mark the World Press Freedom Day, drawing strong condemnation from media activists.
Participants were told to either disperse or face arrest as fully kitted riot police lined streets along the route of the intended march.
The police action took organisers by surprise after the activities were approved well in advance by the ZRP's Harare commanding officer, Chief Superintendent Jairos Saunyama, before he made an 11th hour change of heart.
"When participants got to the corner Chinhoyi Street and Robert Mugabe, they found riot police in full gear ready to disperse the crowd," said ZACRAS chairperson, Gift Mambipiri.
Addressing a hastily arranged press conference later, Mambipiri condemned the ZRP.
"The ban is an outright violation of the constitutional provisions which seek to promote media freedom and access to information," he said.
"The irony of the development is not only that it does not only violate the rights of media to celebrate a day set aside for us but it also happens at a time when the information media panel of inquiry (IMPI) is conducting country wide visits to gather citizens' views on the state of the media in Zimbabwe."
Police action unacceptable ... Organisers hold press conference to criticise the police
Chief Superintendent Saunyama approved the commemorations in a letter dated April 16, 2014 but then cancelled the event on Saturday, telling organisers he could not provide boots on the ground to monitor the march.
"I was surprised today (Saturday) on being called by Chief Superintendent Saunyama, the officer commanding Harare, informing me that the march had been cancelled (apparently because) the police were busy with other important national events such as a soccer tournament and a clean-up campaign," said Kudzai Kwangwari, also of ZACRAS.
Saunyama was not reachable for comment but national police spokesperson Charity Charamba recently issued statements attacking the media for what she called malicious reportage.
Said Charamba: "The ZRP is concerned with the reckless and malicious reportage meant to tarnish the image of the police and to whip up emotions among the public with the intention of turning the same public against the police.
"At the same time, the ZRP will not allow journalists to advocate for a lawless country."
Takura Zhangazha, a media activist, blasted the government for suppressing what "is essentially a globally recognized day of remembering press freedom".
"The government of Zimbabwe thinks press freedom is not a right. It thinks it can give and take it away," said Zhangazha.
The ministry of information, Media and Broadcasting services also came under attack from activists for being "insincere and dishonest".
"This is clear comrades that a leopard will never change its colours," said Terrence Mutsvangwa, a media activist, in apparent reference to Professor Jonathan Moyo, the Minister of Information, Media and Broadcasting Services.
Mambipiri scoffed at suggestions Moyo had no prior knowledge of the police action, insisting it was a well-panned move by both the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Information, Media and Broadcasting service to ban the event.