Freelance journalist Jeffrey Moyo, who has helped document Zimbabwe’s increasingly harsh crackdown on human rights for The Globe and Mail and other media outlets, has now become the latest journalist to be imprisoned in that same crackdown.
Mr. Moyo was arrested in late May and has remained in detention for the past 12 days after being accused of irregularities in helping two U.S. newspaper journalists enter Zimbabwe. His jailing has sparked concern from Canadian and U.S. diplomats and international media-freedom groups.
The Zimbabwean journalist has been denied bail and forbidden from receiving visits from his family at a prison in the city of Bulawayo. His lawyers have been unable to file an appeal because of the court’s lengthy delays in providing a written record of the bail denial.
Prison conditions in Zimbabwe are notoriously grim, and Mr. Moyo was obliged to share a blanket with another prisoner in cold winter temperatures for his first two nights in custody, his lawyers say.
Mr. Moyo, 37, has reported for The Globe on Zimbabwe’s efforts to disrupt political protests and to impose prison sentences on opposition activists. His arrest, and the court’s refusal to grant bail, are the latest examples of a continuing pattern of repression under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced the long-ruling Robert Mugabe after a military coup in 2017.
“We’ve seen a very rapid deterioration in human rights in the last few years,” said Doug Coltart, a Zimbabwean human-rights lawyer and a member of Mr. Moyo’s legal team.
“We definitely appear to be heading into another phase of very intense human-rights abuses. It’s happening across the board: journalists, opposition activists, trade unionists, students.”
While the arrests are becoming more frequent, new tactics of repression are also emerging. “We’ve really seen a weaponization of the denial of bail as a means of punishment before any trial or conviction,” Mr. Coltart told The Globe in an interview on Monday.
Other journalists and opposition members have also suffered weeks or months in prison as a result of bail denials, he noted. “This kind of consistent and regular use of the denial of bail, even in the most incredibly trivial of cases, is really quite a new and worrying trend.”
In another new tactic, Zimbabwean prosecutors argued in court that Mr. Moyo is a danger to national security because he helped U.S. journalists to interview Zimbabweans without the government’s permission. The charge could be punishable by up to 10 years of imprisonment.
“It’s a very disturbing insight into the psyche of the regime – this idea that somehow it’s a threat to national security for Zimbabweans to speak to foreign journalists without the journalists getting permission from the state,” Mr. Coltart said.
Early last month, Mr. Moyo had assisted two New York Times journalists in obtaining media accreditation from the Zimbabwe Media Commission. Prosecutors claim that the accreditations were “fake” because they are not recorded in the commission’s database and were not approved by the Information Ministry, even though the commission is autonomous. A media commission official, Thabang Manhika, was arrested in the same case.
The Canadian government says it is concerned by the two arrests. “Canada urges the government of Zimbabwe to allow journalists and media houses to operate without interference,” said Grantly Franklin, a spokesperson for the Global Affairs department.
He said the Canadian embassy in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, is talking to lawyers and journalist associations to see what can be done in the Moyo case.
The U.S. embassy in Harare said it was disappointed that Mr. Moyo was denied bail. “A free media forms the foundation of democracy,” it said in a tweet last week. “Journalism is not a crime.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international organization based in New York, said the accusations against Mr. Moyo are baseless and the Zimbabwean authorities should recognize that Mr. Moyo has not threatened national security.
“It is only because of Zimbabwean authorities’ paranoia about international media coverage that Moyo is facing up to a decade in jail on spurious charges,” said a statement by Angela Quintal, the CPJ’s Africa program co-ordinator.
She said the court should grant bail to Mr. Moyo and the state should then drop the charges.
Several other media associations in the region, including the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Southern Africa, have protested against Mr. Moyo’s arrest.
In another sign of the political use of wrongful arrests in Zimbabwe, two opposition activists spent eight years in maximum security on false charges of murdering a policeman, before finally being freed last week.
The two activists, Last Maengahama and Tungamirai Madzokere, were released after Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court acknowledged that there was no reliable evidence to link them to the killing. One of the convicted men had even produced proof that he was in church at the time.
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