Lusaka, August 5, 2022 — Zimbabwean authorities should immediately drop all charges against journalists Wisdom Mdzungairi and Desmond Chingarande and allow them to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Tuesday, August 2, police summoned Mdzungairi, editor-in-chief of the privately owned media company Alpha Media Holdings, and Chingarande, a senior reporter with the company, to appear for questioning the following day, the journalists told CPJ by phone.
On Wednesday morning, Mdzungairi and Chingarande appeared at the Harare Central Police Station where police held them for about three hours and charged them with transmitting “false data intending to cause harm,” according to the journalists, their lawyer Jeremiah Bamu, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app, media reports, and the Zimbabwe chapter of the regional press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa.
Authorities released Mdzungairi and Chingarande only after Bamu assured the officers that they would be available as needed, the three told CPJ. If convicted of spreading false information, they could each face a fine of 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$194) and up to five years in prison according to the relevant laws and schedule of fines.
“Zimbabwean police must drop the spurious charges against journalists Wisdom Mdzungairi and Desmond Chingarande, and ensure that the country’s cyber security laws are not abused to censor the press,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in Durban, South Africa. “Mdzungairi and Chingarande are the latest members of the press to be targeted for prosecution, a clear signal that it is open season against journalists ahead of next year’s election. The government must stop this trend in its tracks.”
The journalists’ detention was related to a December 16, 2021, NewsDay report by Chingarande about a local cemetery that was allegedly run without government approval.
In a phone call on July 28, police told Chingarande that they were investigating him over alleged inaccuracies in that report, without specifying who had filed a complaint over the reporting, the journalists and their lawyer said. Mdzungairi told CPJ that their arrest was “emotionally draining.”
When CPJ called Zimbabwe police spokesperson Paul Nyathi, he said he would comment on the case by Friday morning, but did not reply by Friday evening.