MEDIA stakeholders and ordinary people have slammed President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba(pictured) for threatening journalists with imprisonment in an ominous and desperate bid to stop them from covering the gold smuggling, money laundering and corruption scandal which has deeply shaken government and the public.
Last week, Al Jazeera published the first episode in its documentary series showing how politically connected elites are smuggling gold with government collusion. The second episode was broadcast this Thursday.
The corruption-busting investigation has rattled the corridors of power.
The explosive documentary has revealed how people close to President Emmerson Mnangagwa have been looting Zimbabwe’s gold, and laundering money, fuelling a socio-economic crisis that has plagued the country for decades.
Part of the scheme includes self-styled prophet Uebert Angel and controversial miner Henrietta Rushwaya, who was arrested in 2021 for attempting to smuggle 6.7kg of gold worth US$366 000 at Robert Mugabe International Airport in 2020.
This week, Charamba, using his Twitter account @Tinoedza Zvimwe1, threatened journalists who have been reporting on findings of the ground-breaking investigation with jail, which has seen media organisations red-flagging the attempts to gag journalists.
In a tweet, Charamba said: “Friendly advice to all reckless journalists: Al Jazeera is not a court of law before whose claims impart privileges to defamatory utterances. It is merely some weaponised channel.
“If you are reckless enough to repeat what this phony documentary defamatorily says, hoping to plead: “I heard/saw it on Al Jazeera, you will be sorry for yourself. Do not for once think there is no grit to act against reckless, defamatory and politically motivated journalism.
Faceless Twitter names egging you on will not be factor when brickbats come. Be warned!”
In response, media organisations condemned Charamba’s remarks.
The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz), a network of nine media professional associations and support organisations united in defence of free expression, issued a statement castigating Charamba’s remarks.
Members of the network include the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), the Zimbabwe National Editors Forum (Zinef), the Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa Zimbabwe), Enhancing Community Voices (ECV), Media Centre, Gender and Media Connect (GMC), Media Monitors, the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) and the Zimbabwe Association of Community Radio Stations (Zacras).
“The Media Alliance of Zimbabwe (Maz) is gravely concerned with the ominous threats issued on social media platforms against ‘reckless journalists’ that are said to be repeating defamatory statements following the airing of the Al Jazeera documentary on alleged gold smuggling and money laundering.
Quoting the tweet, Maz said: “The same Tinoedza Zvimwe (similarly and directly warned online publication, The NewsHawks. In other Tweets, such ‘reckless journalists’ were also threatened with imprisonment.
“Such dire threats have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
“The threats instil fear and self-censorship among journalists, thereby compromising the citizens’ right to access to information as provided for by our Constitution of which the media plays a critical role in the advancement and enjoyment of that right,” Maz said in a statement.
Maz said intimidatory statements are regressive as they back-track on progress made by the government in outlawing criminal defamation and the adoption by cabinet of the principle of co-regulation as well as the acknowledgement of the existence of internal remedies to address grievances against the media.
“The media in its professional conduct, should always be mindful that in terms of Section 86 of the Constitution (limitation of rights and freedoms), media freedom should be exercised reasonably and with due regard for the rights and freedoms of other persons.
“Maz emphasizes that any person aggrieved by the media should lodge their complaints with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) or the Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe (VMCZ) for redress.”
Similarly, Content Creators Network ZW, a network of seven media platforms, also condemned Charamba’s threats.
“As Content Creators Network ZW, we are troubled by the recent threats to the media by the Presidential Spokesperson here on Twitter.
“We find the threats intimidating to the general media who would want to report on the Al Jazeera Documentary on the Gold Mafia forcing many to turn a blind eye on the alleged corruption.
“We join the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe in urging those with grievances against the media to seek a remedy through the VMCZ or the Zimbabwe Media Commission,” said Content Creators Network ZW in a statement.
The Zimbabwe Online Content Creators (Zocc) also condemned Charamba’s threats to the media, saying they are unwarranted and undermine media freedom.
“We note with great regret and trepidation the message tweeted by the presidential deputy chief secretary, Cde. George Charamba, as he openly threatened journalists with jail term for propagating the Al Jazeera documentary message on gold smuggling in Zimbabwe.
“We have already respectfully engaged Cde. George Charamba over the message to air our concern and invited him to a Twitter Spaces dialogue, to clarify his position, an invite he unfortunately turned down.
“The tweet was crafted to instil fear and discourage media practitioners from propagating or discussing the findings and allegations on mass corruption, gold smuggling and money laundering in Zimbabwe. He went on to label local media outlet The NewsHawks a ‘Soros Outfit! Huge mistake you were allowed to be here’,” said Zocc in a statement.
Zocc said Charamba’s message impinges on the rights of online content creators and practising journalists across the nation, while violating access to information by the media as provided by section 62 of the national constitution.
“A free Press is a cornerstone of democracy. As a result, threats against journalists naturally become a danger to rights of citizens. That is why such threats are counterproductive and must be resisted by all.
“We are however encouraged by Charamba’s willingness to engage, as he invited us to his office to discuss the matter instead of the preferred Twitter Space. As various media players we hope to honestly engage in a transparent manner and continue to practise in a professional, credible and ethical manner acceptable to media standards,” said Zocc in a statement.