Lusaka, October 6, 2022—Zimbabwean authorities should immediately drop the charges against freelance sports journalist Hope Chizuzu, return his electronic devices and allow him to do his work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
Around mid-morning on September 29, police detectives visited Chizuzu’s office in the capital’s central business district, Harare, where they informed him that he was under arrest, but did not reveal why, the reporter told CPJ via the messaging app.
Minutes later, Chizuzu was taken to Harare Central Police Station, where police informed him that Dynamos Football Club board members Moses Chunga and Eric Aisam had opened a case against him for allegedly sent false messages, the reporter said.
Chizuzu, who primarily posts stories on Facebook, was charged with transmitting false data messages with 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, according to the journalist, a report and the Zimbabwe chapter of the regional press freedom group Media Institute of Southern Africa.
Authorities released Chizuzu after documenting a warning statement and told him he would soon be required to appear in court, the reporter said. His devices remain in custody for “further investigations”, Chizuzu said.
“Zimbabwean police must immediately drop the charges against journalist Hope Chizuzu, immediately return the journalist’s electronic devices, and end the abuse of the country’s cybersecurity laws to silence journalists,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator, New York. “Chizuzu has become the latest victim of the country’s draconian cyber laws that are hostile to press freedom as Zimbabweans head to the polls next year.”
Chizuzu is the third journalist to be arrested in Zimbabwe for alleged breaches of a cybercrime law since the enactment of the Data Protection Act in 2021. (On August 2, 2022, Zimbabwe police arrested journalists from ‘Alpha Media Holdings, Widsom Mdzungairi and Desmond Chingarande charged with transmitting ‘false data with intent to harm.’ If convicted of transmitting false data messages, Chizuzu faces a $70,000 fine Zimbabweans (193 USD) and up to five years in prison.
“The new cybercrime laws are being abused by those who are against the fight against corruption… Even the (complainants’) statement to the police did not provide the alleged lies,” Chizuzu said, questioning the power of the police to arrest him and take possession of his devices. .
CPJ could not reach Chunga and Aisam by phone, and they did not respond to a request for comment sent via the messaging app. Dynamos club spokesman Eric Mvududu also did not respond to a request for comment sent via the messaging app.