Paradigm Initiative has noted with grave concern the arrest by Zimbabwean authorities of Martha O’Donovan over a social media post for ‘undermining authority of or insulting the President’. Reports indicate that O‘Donovan, an American citizen who works with a TV station in Zimbabwe, allegedly re-tweeted a tweet by Magamba TV that “referred to a certain Goblin, whose wife and stepsons imported a Rolls Royce vehicle.” She was subsequently arrested by the Police during a dawn raid on her home in Harare. The authorities also seized O’Donovan’s electronic gadgets.
Paradigm Initiative is of the firm belief that the arrest of O’Donovan in the circumstances described above grossly violates her freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Zimbabwean Constitution and various other international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party. For starters, the tweet forming the basis of arrest does not refer to the President. Further, even if it referred to the President, citizens and all residents are guaranteed the freedom to criticize public officials including presidents. In this regard, insult laws such as the one purported to be used in this matter are not in tandem with the modern democratic dispensation.
According to Innocent Kalua, Paradigm Initiative’s digital rights advocacy lead in Eastern and Southern Africa, “it is noted that the arrest has come just weeks after the creation by the Zimbabwe Government of a new Cyber Crime and Cyber Security and Threat Detection Ministry thereby heightening fears that the ministry was created to tighten government’s grip over the cyberspace in Zimbabwe.”
Paradigm Initiative calls upon the new Minister of Cyber Crime and Cyber Security and Threat Detection to rise up to the occasion and defend both online and offline free expression rights in Zimbabwe. Paradigm Initiative implores the government through the Minister of Cyber Crime and Cyber Security and Threat Detection, Honourable Patrick Chinamasa to immediately and unconditionally free Martha O’Donovan.
Paradigm Initiative is a Pan-African digital rights and inclusion advocacy organisation with offices in Western and Southern Africa. For more information on this subject, please send an eMail to firstname.lastname@example.org.