Where is the freedom? Media watchdog cries foul
With the recent spat of protests in Zimbabwe that have occurred this week, that included a stayaway staged by civil servants over the late payment of June salaries, burning of warehouses at Beitbridge Border Post and disgruntled public transport operators due to police bribe demands, it seems the country that was once the bread basket of southern Africa keeps digging it self deeper into turmoil.
The the country’s media watchdog, MISA-Zimbabwe decried with the disabling of the WhatsApp platform, a mobile messaging app. which allows you to exchange messages without having to pay for SMS.
MISA in Zimbabwe monitors the enjoyment of media freedom and freedom of expression and during the ongoing protest dubbed ShutDown Zimbabwe which occurred on Wednesday, it was gravely concerned with the apparent disabling of theWhatsApp platform.
The platform had become the main communication tool Zimbabweans were using to mobilise and share information on the protest.
MISA-Zimbabwe condemns this brazen violation of citizens’ right to freely express themselves and access information through communication platforms of their choice as guaranteed in the constitution.
By blocking the popular information sharing tool, Zimbabwe now joins a growing list of despotic regimes that resort to such cowardly acts when faced with growing citizen dissent.
While it is still to be ascertained whether the blockage was at the behest of the government, threats issued against citizens using social media to express themselves during the protest raise suspicions on its culpability.
This is further supported by the deafening silence on the part of Internet Service Providers (IPS), mobile network operators and the government on what exactly is transpiring.
As the ongoing strike by government workers commenced, the state-run, Chronicle newspaper on 6 July reported Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services, Minister Supa Mandiwanzira warned citizens against sending subversive messages on social media.
Mandiwanzira warned that government can track origins of messages on Over the Top services and that “those found on the wrong side of the law would be brought to book”.
These disturbing pronouncements are a repeat of similar threats issued by President Mugabe and Mandiwanzira a few weeks ago against the use of social media to communicate what government deems unpalatable.
MISA-Zimbabwe calls on all relevant authorities and internet service providers to desist from eroding citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and access to information in violation of the country’s constitution and regional and international instruments on the promotion of civil liberties Zimbabwe is a state party.
Failure to uphold state obligations clearly spelt out in these instruments can only affirm perceptions that Zimbabwe is a rogue state with complete disregard for human rights, essential for promoting the dignity and well being of its citizens.
Meanwhile, the postal and telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), warned members of the public that any person caught in possession of generating , sharing or passing on abusive, threatening, subversive or offensive telecommunication messages, including Whatsapp or any other social media messages that may be deemed to cause despondency, incite violence, will be arrested and dealt with accordingly.