Independent Complaints Commission crucial for journalists’ safety

Independent Complaints Commission crucial for journalists’ safety

As Zimbabwe trudges along with legal reforms, the year 2020 saw the gazetting of several pieces of legislation, some of which include the Zimbabwe Media Commission Bill and the Cybersecurity and Data Protection Bill.

Among these, was also the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission Bill which was gazetted on 24 November 2020 and is expected to undergo the public consultation process sometime this year.

The Independent Complaints Commission Bill seeks to provide for the establishment of the Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission for the investigation of complaints by members of the public against misconduct by members of the security forces. This will operationalise Section 210 of the 2013 Constitution which states that:

“An Act of Parliament must provide an effective and independent mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services, and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct.”

The security forces referred to in the Constitution include the Defence Forces, the Police Service, Intelligence Services and Prisons and Correctional Services.

MISA Zimbabwe, as part of its mandate to promote media freedom in Zimbabwe, has been receiving and attending to complaints by journalists of media violations perpetrated by security forces. More recently, these cases have been perpetrated by security officers enforcing lockdown regulations, with violations involving assault, harassment, unlawful arrest and detention.

Most of these cases are reported to the police by the journalists in the presence of an assigned lawyer but the matters are rarely investigated, creating an impression that security forces can engage in any misconduct with impunity.

At the end of last year, MISA Zimbabwe had recorded about 40 cases of journalists who were either unlawfully arrested, detained, assaulted or harassed by the police and also by members of the Defence Forces under the guise of enforcing the lockdown regulations.

In March 2020, when the cases stood at 14, MISA Zimbabwe had to intervene through strategic litigation which resulted in a High Court order directing the enforcement officers to desist from unlawfully interfering in the undertaking of journalists’ professional duties. Despite the existence of the court order, the violations have continued.

MISA Zimbabwe, therefore, welcomes the bold step taken by the legislature to put the 2013 constitutional provisions into effect by facilitating the establishment of the commission that will handle public complaints involving security forces.

The Bill allows any person who is aggrieved by the misconduct of security officers to lodge a complaint with the Commission and this will include individual journalists and media practitioners in general. Once a complaint is filed, the Commission will be expected to institute an investigation within seven days and update the complainant within 21 days. The Commission can also extend the period to 60 days if it needs more time to investigate.

You can download the brief analysis of the proposed Zimbabwe Independent Complaints Commission Bill for further reading here.

About MISA

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1996. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.