HARARE, ZIMBABWE - Two rights groups - Amnesty International and the Media Institute of Southern Africa - have released reports saying Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has failed to break with the past and isn't keeping his promise to allow freedom of the press and access to information. The government has a different opinion.
In its report, Amnesty International says President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from the late Robert Mugabe in 2017, has not fulfilled a promise to promote media freedoms in Zimbabwe.
Lucia Masuka, the executive director of Amnesty International in Zimbabwe, said in the last six years, the government has been using legislation to target human rights defenders and journalists. Amnesty said laws have been misused as an instrument of oppression and that authorities have amended existing legislation or introduced new measures targeting dissenting views and groups.
'Other various pieces of legislation that were enacted during this period which show a continuation in terms of a crackdown on human rights - pieces of legislation such as the Cyber and Data Protection Act, where we have seen journalists, you know, being charged with offenses under the piece of legislation,' said Masarira. 'Our policy brief also outlines the use of the law as well as violence against journalists."
In a separate report, the Media Institute of Southern Africa or MISA, said that while governments in the region are enacting laws to allow access to information, they have yet to put the measures into practice. Nqaba , a journalist affiliated with the organization, explains.
Nqaba Matshazi of Media Institute of Southern Africa in Harare on Oct. 2, 2023, says governments should establish a culture of openness. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
"The recommendation is that the government should establish a culture of openness, sticking with the law and making sure that access to information is available, information is available to everyone,' said Matshazi. 'Additionally, it is important for the government to proactively disclose information for citizens, access to information is an enabling right for which other rights can be enjoyed."
Jenfan Muswere, Zimbabwe's minister of information, defends the government's actions.
Jenfan Muswere, Zimbabwe's minister of information, talking to journalists in Harare in Sept. 2023. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
"In order to enhance access to information, the government of Zimbabwe has done a lot in order to ensure that we achieve universal access to information,' said Muswere.
He said the government is working to open the ICT (information and communication technologies) sector so that satellite technology can be used to ensure universal access to information.
Muswere also pointed to changes to legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, the Cyber and Data Protection Act and the repeal of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, known as AIPPA. Amnesty says AIPPA, which was passed in 2002, has been misused to thwart the influence of voices critical of the government.
Amnesty also says such legislative changes will have a chilling effect on would-be dissenters.