Journalists covering court cases have been advised against blocking vans carrying suspects to court, and disobeying orders from Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) officials as that may result in the suspects fleeing.
This was said by ZPCS national deputy public relations officer Mr Peter Chaparanganda in a statement this afternoon following reports that a freelance journalist, Frank Chikowore, was harassed by ZPCS officers as he was allegedly trying to position himself to film the arrival of political activist Hopewell Chin’ono and MDC Vice chairperson Job Sikhala.
The incident happened at the Harare Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
Mr Chaparanganda said the ZPCS had taken note of the video that has gone viral on social media.
“Officers are alleged to have used a fire arm to disperse journalists who were obstructing free passage of a court truck which wanted to drop the inmates at the court,” he said.
“The court truck was ferrying ‘D’ Class inmates who are a high risk to security and upon arrival, the journalists scrambled to position themselves and in doing so, they came too close to a moving court truck and the officers instructed them to pave way.
“Unfortunately, one of the journalists refused to take the order and advanced to the moving court truck.”
Mr Chaparanganda said the Prison Act empowers officers to use weapons when circumstances permit, to prevent pandemonium that may lead to a mass escape of inmates, loss of property, death or injuries.
“Therefore, officers have to protect the inmates from the unseen danger that might occur. However, the officer did not use the fire arm as purported but was ready to take appropriate action in preparation for any eventuality.
“This incident was necessitated by the unprofessional conduct that was exhibited by a journalist who refused to respect the simple instruction that was given to him to pave way for a court truck, which was carrying ‘D’ class inmates,” he said.
Mr Chaparanganda said the ZPCS does not condone the harassment of journalists, adding that investigations are underway to establish what transpired on the day in question.
He added that the ZPCS respects human rights, but at the same time tasked to prevent inmates from escaping.
“We would like to take the same opportunity to appeal to the journalists and the public not to interfere with officers when they are carrying out their duties.
“However, ZPCS is an organisation that respects and appreciates the role of the media, which is to educate, inform and entertain the public. It is also important for the media personnel to discharge their duties in a professional and ethical way in order to avoid unnecessary squabbles with ZPCS,” said Mr Chaparanganda.