27 January 1999


Police blockade peaceful protest

Incident details


(MISA/IFEX) - On 26 January 1999, police in the Zimbabwean capital Harare
prevented several hundred protesters from handing over a petition to the
Speaker of Parliament. The incident took place during a peaceful march to
Parliament to protest the recent detention and torture of editor Mark
Chavunduka and reporter Ray Choto of "The Standard" newspaper.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 27 January, 25 January, 22 January, 21 January, 18
January, 15 January and 13 January 1999**
The demonstrators, most of them lawyers, wanted to give the Speaker of the
House a petition citing a number of complaints against alleged state abuse
of human rights. However, the marchers were met in front of Parliament House
by about sixty riot policemen, armed with AK-47 assault rifles, button
sticks, dogs and tear gas canisters. The chairperson of the Zimbabwe Lawyers
for Human Rights, which organised the protest under the auspices of the
Zimbabwe Constitutional Assembly, Kevin Laue, told the SABA news agency that
the protesters would meet the Attorney General on 27 January over their
grievances. Laue added that the detention and torture of the two
journalists, and the blockade today of a peaceful march, were a defiance of
Zimbabwe's Constitution.

Background Information

Chavunduka was detained by the military on 12 January, two days after "The
Standard" published a story alleging that about twenty three soldiers had
been detained for attempting to overthrow the government of Robert Mugabe.
During his incarceration, Chavunduka was denied access to legal
representation, a doctor, family and friends.

On 14 January, the Zimbabwean High Court ordered the government to release
Chavunduka, arguing that his detention was unlawful. The government
(military) however refused to abide by the court order saying civilian
courts have no jurisdiction over military camps where Chavunduka was being
held. A second order was issued by the High Court demanding Chavunduka's
release, but was again flouted by the military, who instead pretended it
would be handing Chavunduka over to the police to be charged under a civil
process. Choto was arrested by police on 19 January, and then handed over to
the military for interrogation.

Both men have been charged under the Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960
for publishing false reports that were "likely to cause alarm, fear or
despondency to the public, or section thereof." The offence carries with it
a maximum prison sentence of seven years. They were released on 21 January
on bail of Zim$10,000 (approx. US$255). They were not asked to plead and
were remanded to appear for trial on 22 February. They were also instructed
to surrender their travel documents.

On 21 January, shortly after the two had been released on bail, they
recounted how they had been tortured at the hands of the military. Both men
were beaten all over their bodies with fists, wooden planks and rubber
sticks, particularly on the soles of their feet, and given electric shocks
all over the body, including the genitals. They were also subjected to the
"submarine", where their heads are wrapped in plastic bags and then
submerged in a water tank until they suffocate.

On 22 January, the day after their release, police arrested the managing
director of "The Standard", Clive Wilson, and held him in jail for three
nights. Wilson was released unconditionally on 23 January after the Attorney
General refused to prosecute him for what he said was the police's lack of

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Wilson said he was interrogated for three
and half hours concerning the sources of the contentious story which
appeared in "The Standard", but that he was not tortured in any way.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • calling for Zimbabwean authorities to respect their citizens' right to
    freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • strongly protesting the use of torture by military interrogators
  • calling for an end to the harassment of media workers in Zimbabwe
  • calling for the dropping of charges against the two journalists
  • pointing out that the charges against the two journalists are in
    of the right to freedom of expression as contained in Article 19 of the
    International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the
    African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, of which Zimbabwe is a

    Appeals To

    His Excellency President Robert Mugabe
    Office of the President
    Causeway, Harare
    Fax: +263 4 708 557

    Mr Moven Mahachi
    Zimbabwe Minister of Defence
    Fax: +263 4 796 762

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Media Institute of Southern Africa
    21 Johann Albrecht Street
    Private Bag 13386
    misaalerts (@) gmail.com
    Fax:+264 61 248016

    More on this case

    "Standard" journalists' trial date set 15 March 2000 Tortured journalists' trial deferred 7 January 2000 Court clears minister of contempt charges; spares newspaper costs 15 March 1999 Court rules for journalists to seek medical treatment, state appeals 24 February 1999 IFJ condemns Zimbabwe for arrests and torture 12 February 1999 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1999 Medical report details torture of two journalists 10 February 1999 Human Rights Watch protests new crackdown on Zimbabwe's independent media 10 February 1999 RSF protests deteriorating press freedom situation 9 February 1999 Three more journalists arrested 8 February 1999 ARTICLE 19 to support journalists' legal bid 3 February 1999 Newspaper director released unconditionally; government promises to crack down on bad press against military 27 January 1999 Police blockade peaceful protest 27 January 1999 Newspaper's managing editor appears in court 27 January 1999 NDIMA protests detention of journalist 25 January 1999 Fears for newspaper director high 25 January 1999 Journalists sent for full medical check-up amid disclosure of torture ordeal; further attacks on journalists; protest held in Namibia 22 January 1999 Journalists released on bail 21 January 1999 Detained journalists appear in court 21 January 1999 MISA concerned for health and well-being of detained journalists 21 January 1999 Journalists tortured while in custody 21 January 1999 WAN protests continued illegal detention of journalist 21 January 1999 Zimbabwean defence ministry continues to detain journalist 18 January 1999 Journalist still detained 15 January 1999 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 Editor arrested 13 January 1999
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