"The developments are really unfortunate, in the sense that we still have clauses in our statutes which are used to arrest journalists and criminalise journalism, and hence infringe on media freedom and freedom of expression," Jameson Timba, the deputy minister of media, information and publicity, told IRIN. Timba is from the main faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) the former opposition party.
Vincent Kahiya, editor of the Zimbabwe Independent newspaper, and Constantine Chimakure, the newspaper’s news editor, were arrested on 11 May for publishing an article that fingered intelligence and police officers allegedly involved in the abduction of journalist and human rights activist, Jestina Mukoko, and members of the MDC in late 2008.
Kahiya and Chimakure were released on bail on 12 May, but a police spokesperson was quoted in the media as saying that the journalists had sought to "undermine public confidence in law enforcement and security agents".
Dumisani Muleya, a senior political reporter, told IRIN: "Journalists continue to be harassed and to work in a repressive environment, which means nothing has really changed since the inclusive government was formed almost 100 days ago."
Timba underlined the need to review existing media laws, which had been the objective of a conference held on 9 May. However, the gathering was boycotted by media unions after Mukoko and freelance journalist Andrison Manyere were arrested for the second time last week. Mukoko has since been released.
Under the Global Political Agreement signed by Zimbabwe’s three main political parties in September 2008, which underpins the unity government, the government committed itself to immediately start processing applications for the registration of media houses, but not much has happened so far.
Two other journalists, the editor of the government-controlled The Sunday News, Brezhnev Malaba, and journalist Nduduzo Tshuma, are also expected to appear in court soon to face criminal defamation charges, after naming senior police officers allegedly involved in a grain distribution scandal in a report published in 2008.
The media reform conference, which recommended that the draconian media laws be repealed, and that parliament control the public media, was overshadowed by the arrest of the journalists.
The Zimbabwe Union of Journalists commented: "The irony is that the manhunt for journalists at The Zimbabwe Independent was launched on the day" that the conference on media law reform got underway.