Zimbabwean authorities should hold accountable the security agent who attacked journalist Ruvimbo Muchenje at a rally for opposition political party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), and the CCC should ensure journalists are not unduly denied access to its public events or harassed for doing their job, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.
Around 2 p.m. on September 11, in Chinhoyi, a city about 72 miles (116 kilometers) northwest of the capital of Harare, a CCC security agent denied Muchenje, a reporter for privately owned website NewsHawks, access to the Gadzema stadium to cover a rally held by party leader Nelson Chamisa, according to news reports, statements by the Zimbabwe chapter of the regional press freedom group, Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), the International Federation of Journalists, and the journalist, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.
Muchenje told CPJ that a security agent outside the stadium refused to allow her in despite her producing her press pass, which was supposed to grant access to the event. When Muchenje tried to move past and enter the stadium, the agent grabbed and pulled her hair, and threw her to the ground, she said. A second agent joined after Muchenje fell to the ground.
When a driver for another journalist sought to intervene, the agent who attacked her defended his actions, saying that Muchenje had been “disrespectful,” the journalist said, adding that CCC supporters watched but did not intervene during the attack.
The attack lasted several minutes before the agents allowed Muchenje to stand, but one held her by her belt, she said. She was released when Stanley Gama, a former editor of the Daily News who recognized Muchenje, intervened and persuaded the agents to let her go, Gama tweeted and told CPJ via messaging app.
“Zimbabwe’s authorities should transparently investigate and hold accountable the security personnel responsible for attacking journalist Ruvimbo Muchenje,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, in Nairobi. “Journalists should not be unduly denied access to events of public interest and are too often harassed, attacked, or arrested simply for doing their job.”
Separately on the same day, Voice of America reporter Nunurai Jena was similarly denied entry to the stadium to cover the rally and harassed by coalition security personnel, according to media reports.
Coalition spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere told CPJ over the phone that the incidents involving the journalists at the stadium were “unfortunate” and the party had apologized. Muchenje said she had received an apology via messaging app, but CPJ could not confirm whether Jena had received an apology. CPJ tried to reach Jena via messaging apps and phone calls but received no response.
Mahere also promised to ensure the safety of all journalists who cover the coalition’s rallies, Mahere and a Bulawayo24 report said.
Zimbabwe’s information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, condemned the incidents in a statement, saying attacks on female journalists “border on gender-based violence,” according to news reports and a copy of the statement posted on Twitter.
For years, there have been incidents of repeated harassment, arrest, and detention of journalists in Zimbabwe, including in March, when a member of Chamisa’s security detail attacked journalist Courage Dutiro for photographing a party member at a rally.