The Committee to Protect Journalists demanded on Thursday that Zimbabwean authorities immediately drop all accusations against freelance sports journalist Hope Chizuzu, release his electronic equipment, and provide him freedom of expression.
On September 29, at midday, police detectives went to Chizuzu’s workplace in Harare’s central business district and told him he was being held without providing a reason, the journalist said CPJ through messaging app.
A short while later, Chizuzu was brought to Harare Central Police Station where he was informed by police that board members for Dynamos Football Club, Moses Chunga and Eric Aisam, had filed a complaint against him for allegedly sending fraudulent texts.
According to the journalist, a news report, and the Zimbabwean chapter of the regional press freedom organization Media Institute of Southern Africa, Chizuzu, who primarily publishes stories on Facebook, was charged with transmitting false data messages with the intent to cause harm, in violation of Section 164C of the Data Protection Act, which amends the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Act), and his mobile phone and an iPad were confiscated.
The journalist claimed that after recording a warning statement, authorities released Chizuzu and informed him that he would soon be compelled to appear in court. His electronics are still in police custody, Chizuzu said, for “additional investigations.
According to Angela Quintal, the coordinator of CPJ’s Africa program in New York, “Zimbabwean authorities must immediately withdraw the accusations against journalist Hope Chizuzu, return the journalist’s electronic devices, and cease using the nation’s cyber security legislation to silence journalists. As Zimbabweans prepare for elections next year, Chizuzu has become the most recent victim of the nation’s strict cyber regulations, which are harmful to press freedom.
Since the Data Protection Act was passed in 2021, Chizuzu is the third journalist to be detained in Zimbabwe for alleged violations of a cybercrime statute. Widsom Mdzungairi and Desmond Chingarande, journalists with Alpha Media Holdings, were detained by Zimbabwean authorities on August 2 for allegedly providing “fake data intended to cause injury.” Chizuzu could be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a fine of 70,000 Zimbabwean dollars ($193) if found guilty of sending fake data signals.
“Those opposed to the fight against corruption are abusing the new internet legislation. Even the (complainants’) police statement did not contain the purported lies, “Chizuzu stated, disputing the police’s right to detain him and seize his equipment. Chunga and Aisam were not reachable by phone, and they did not reply to a messaging app request for comment. Eric Mvududu, a spokesman for the Dynamos club, did not reply to a message asking for comment either.