The ailing power-sharing government in Zimbabwe looks increasingly like the ill-fated Weimar Republic in Germany, as the constitutionally-minded Movement for Democratic Change is harrassed and assaulted with Hitlerian self-confidence by the blood-soaked despots of the Mugabe regime.
Day after day, new brutal inroads are made into the power-sharing agreement which threaten the stability and constitutional framework of the region as a whole.
The built-in instability of this power-sharing arrangement now poses a direct challenge to the government of South Africa. Does it sit back, once again, and allow thuggery and dictatorship to rule in Zimbabwe, or does it take active steps to assist the process of democratic recovery?
On the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela, the report below by Wilf Mbanga, editor and publisher of The Zimbabwean - a journalist of the highest integrity - gives further evidence of the cancer at the heart of government in southern Africa.
DISTRIBUTION STAFF CHARGED WITH PUBLISHING FALSEHOODS
Wilf Mbanga, Editor/Publisher, The Zimbabwean
Thursday 11 February, 2010
The directors and staff of the company recently engaged to handle distribution of The Zimbabwean inside the country were this morning charged under Section 31 (a) (iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification& Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23, with publishing falsehoods prejudicial to the State.
This followed several visits to the police station by the directors and staff of our new distributor, Adquest. The first took place on January 17, 2010, when the directors, Barnabas Madzimure and Fortune Mutandiro, were arrested in Mbare while distributing The Zimbabwean on Sunday. After answering questions for a couple of hours and producing papers to show that the newspapers had been legally imported they were released, without charge.
On February 11, 2010 Madzimure and Mutandiro were charged with writing and publishing " with their accomplices " false statements which were published in the edition of the newspaper of January 10, 2010 under the headline "Mnangagwa plots fight back: talk of new splinter group".
The statements, alleged to be false, tell of a meeting held on Christmas day by Emmerson Mnangagwa, Jonathan Moyo, and other senior Zanu (PF) officials, and indicate that this was reminiscent of the Tsholotsho incident. It is charged that these statements were intended to, or there was a real risk or possibility that they would, undermine public confidence in a law enforcement agency, the prison services or the defence forces. The charge is, with all due respect, ludicrous and is in my view calculated to harass and intimidate the distributors of the newspaper.
Madzimure and Mutandiro denied the charges, and in their warned and cautioned statements stated that they had nothing to do with the distribution of the newspaper of January 10, which was actually distributed by our former distributor, Publications Distributors. They further denied that they had written the article or had anything to do with the editorial content of the newspaper, and advised that the newspaper was produced outside Zimbabwe by my company registered in the UK.
All this is apparent from every issue of the newspaper, which clearly indicates that it is published outside of the country. Had the police written to me to make enquiries I would have been able to give them the facts, but no such enquiry has been made. Nor, curiously, have the police made any enquiries, as far as Adquest's lawyer is aware, of the previous distributor.
Although the police officers with whom the Adquest personnel have dealt have been courteous at all times, the fact is that invitations to the police station and particularly the Law and Order section strike fear into the heart of the average citizen. The more often this happens the more intimidating it becomes. I believe that the staff of our new distributor have been harassed in a way which is calculated to intimidate them simply because they are distributing The Zimbabwean. This has disrupted the distribution and the sale of advertising space, while the Adquest Staff have spent hours at Law and Order, with the police carry out a fishing expedition in an attempt to find some tenuous link to the publication of The Zimbabwean.
This tactic of harassment, arrest and charges in connection with publications in newspapers is reminiscent of the days when Jonathan Moyo was the Minister of Information, and regularly made complaints to the police culminating in the arrest and charging of many journalists on allegations of publishing false statements. Jonathan Moyo, who has recently returned to Zanu (PF) after years in the political wilderness, is referred to in the story which has given rise to these charges.
He was clearly aggrieved by the article because within days he had launched several scathing attacks on The Zimbabwean, via Zanu (PF) websites, and he made a number of threats against myself, The Zimbabwean and the two reporters bylined on the article. That is what makes these charges even more ludicrous, for the names of the authors of the article were on the front page, yet now the police allege and charge that the article was written by the staff of Adquest and a free lance sales representative!
It is therefore clear that Jonathan Moyo has instigated this investigation and the harassment of the staff of the newspaper's distributor, and he has made it clear that charges have to be brought against someone in Zimbabwe, because it is impossible to charge the actual publishers, as they are in the UK. This is not consistent with the press freedom promised by the government of national unity and it is of considerable concern that the police have been manipulated into harassing our distributor and bringing false charges of this nature.
Since February 2005 The Zimbabwean has kept open a window of democratic space in Zimbabwe by publishing a weekly tabloid newspaper containing independent news on what has been happening on the ground beneath Robert Mugabe's international news blackout.
In the face of a constant smear campaign in the state-controlled media, editor Wilf Mbanga continued to publish week after week - exposing corruption, electoral fraud, human rights abuses, land grabbing by top Zanu (PF) officials, the military and the police, gross propaganda, state-sponsored violence, extra-judicial killings, abuse of the justice system and countless other crimes against humanity by the Mugabe regime.
Since its inception The Zimbabwean has been distributed inside the country by local distributor Publications Distribution. In mid-January 2010, distribution was switched to another local company, Adquest, which was also contracted to source advertising from local companies.
10.01.10 Front page The Zimbabwean on Sunday - "Mnangagwa plots fightback" - story detailing political in-fighting within Zanu, Christmas Day Gweru meeting, chaired by July Moyo and attended by Jonathan Moyo - Mnangagwa allies.
14.01.10 - On P3 Iss 2 Thurs "Moyo denies role in Tsholotsho II, but secret doc details plans for new party" (Zimbabwe mail.com story) the story about J Moyo denying his role in the "Mnangagwa plots fightback". In his denial he issued a number of threats against The Zimbawe Mail website, Wilf Mbanga and The Zimbabwean and the two reporters bylined in the original story, Never Chanda and Farai Shoko. For some curious reason the MDC led by PM Tsvangirai was also brought in.
On front page of Thurs 14 Jan, Wilf Mbanga wrote under the headline "Moyo a disgrace": "The threats have been noted and we take them seriously. Every time Moyo issues a threat something terrible has happened. In 2001 he said The Daily News should be silenced ‘for its madness' - a few days later bombs destroyed the newspaper's entire printing press in the Southerton Industrial sites."
For the record Moyo threatened:
"Maybe they don't know this but the MDC-T idiots and the British counter-intelligence agents behind Wilf Mbanga's desperately false Christmas story are playing a dangerous disinformation game which can be played in far better ways by revolutionary comrades to the devastation of corrupt and incompetent MDC-T ministers, councillors, and politicians including Wilf Mbanga and some Zimbabwean website operators whose cupboards are full of shocking skeletons.
"With its British and Rhodie roots so naked, the MDC is a sitting duck for counter-intelligence games that others can also play and even better. If they doubt this they should continue their dirty tricks and see what will happen to them as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow."
Avowed Zanu (PF) activist, Police Commissioner Chihuri, this week joined the anti-Mbanga bandwagon. A report in The Herald on 10.02.10 quoting him telling a farewell parade of police officers going for UN peacekeeping: "There are rumours circulating on the Internet and online news especially by (Chris) (sic) Mbanga and others about the force. Let them open their eyes and ears and hear what I have to say, that the five officers were selected not by Chihuri and not the ZRP but by the United Nations in New York."
17.01.10 Two directors of Adquest, Barnabas Madzimure and Fortune Mutandiro, arrested while distributing The Zimbabwean on Sunday iss 02 in Mbare. Questioned at Mbare Police Station, produced evidence of correct import documentation and were released. No lawyer present.
09.02.10 Three drivers arrested while distributing The Zimbabwean on Tuesday issue 05 in Central Harare, questioned for three hours in Law and Order section at Harare Central and released without charge. No lawyer present.
10.02.10 Madzimure and Mutandiro asked by the Police to come down to Law and Order at 2..30pm. Questioned and made to sign affidavits. Released and told to come back the next morning at 9am.
11.02.10 The two directors reported to Harare Central as instructed and were charged with Publishing falsehoods. Lawyer was called to deal with statements. Later two other staff members slapped with the same charge.
Further legal details
On February 9, 2010 whilst distributing The Zimbabwean on Tuesday, three Adquest drivers were arrested and taken to the Law and Order Section at Harare Central, where they were separated and questioned for three hours. They were made to sign statements and were then released, without charge.
The next day Madzimure and Mutandiro were summoned to the Law and Order section at 2pm, where they were questioned for a number of hours, and then released. I am advised that during this questioning it was made clear to the police that Adquest took over the distribution of the newspaper on January 14, 2010 and only distributes the newspaper.
It has no input into editorial content whatsoever. However the police were keen to make a connection between the publication of the newspaper and its distribution, evidently so that they could hold someone in Zimbabwe responsible for its publication and subject that person to prosecution in respect of stories which they found unpalatable. Madzimure and Mutandiro were told to return at 9 am the next morning with their sales representative and a freelance sales representative, who sells advertising space for the newspaper to Zimbabwean businesses.
Section 31, under which Madzimure and Mutandiro, are charged is currently the subject of a number of referrals to the Supreme Court, in other criminal cases where journalists, editors and publishers have been charged with the publication of false statements under the same section. It is believed among the legal fraternity that this section is unconstitutional and that when one of these cases is eventually heard by the Supreme Court it is hoped that the section will be struck down as such.
The two directors were released after they had made their warned and cautioned statements and were told that the police would contact them when they wanted them to go to court. However, within an hour the police summoned the two sales representatives for a further session. They have now been charged with precisely the same charge and they too have denied the charge on the same grounds, that is they have nothing to do with the publication of the newspaper and did not write the words which are alleged to be false.
While at the police station Adquest's lawyer asked the police officers what had led them to have a reasonable suspicion that the directors of Adquest had written the statements alleged to be false. They declined to answer and said this was a matter of evidence. It is however a matter of very considerable concern when people are arrested and charged and the police will not disclose the grounds on which they suspect those charged to be guilty.
How can those charged answer the charges and clear themselves if the police will not reveal why they are suspected to be guilty? It is a basic tenet of democracy and justice that a person who is charged should be given the reasons for the charge so that he can answer them. In this case there cannot be any grounds whatsoever, reasonable or otherwise, for the charges. Those charged are not employees of The Zimbabwean, and have nothing to do with the production of stories for the newspaper or the newspaper itself. That is why the police declined to disclose the grounds for the charges. They have no reasonable grounds for the charges.
Why would the police bring such charges without reasonable grounds? The answer is straightforward, it is because they are acting on orders from above. Adquest's lawyer asked the police to disclose the identity of the complainant, and was told it was the state. The police were requested to identify the person who instigated the investigation and again the police declined to answer this.
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