REEDOM ON THE
online news platforms, quite a number use pseudonyms when writing about sensitive issues for fear
of harassment, and citizens are increasingly using pseudonyms online to discuss political topics.
Debates on the country’s political and socioeconomic issues as well as reactions to online articles
about Zimbabwe are mostly confined to chat rooms and feedback sections of online news sites.
Concerns over state surveillance has also led to increasing self-censorship, and journalists and
human rights defenders who feel threatened often resort to secure e-mail platforms such as Hush-
Mail for correspondence out of concern that the Zimbabwe domain name .co.zw is an open book
for state security.
There is a sense that the dominant political elite are losing the online battle. With the growing use
of digital and social media tools, the ruling party has identified ICT-based communication platforms
as a threat to its hold on power and has accordingly grown more intent on regulating and
influencing online content.
For example, at its December 2012 party conference, a ZANU-PF
official expressed the broad intention to invest at least $5 million in ICT and social media
development to “fight cyber warfare.”
Also in December 2012, during a meeting with the Chinese
deputy minister of the State Counsel Information Office who was visiting Zimbabwe at the time, a
ZANU-PF cabinet minister was quoted as stating that “there should be some form of control of the
internet and other social media platforms because they [have] the potential to cause strife.”
Meanwhile, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, and YouTube, are among the most popular websites among
Zimbabwean internet users. Media surveys indicate a declining readership of newspapers coinciding
with the rising use of ICT-based platforms for news and other information.
In keeping with this
shift, traditional media outlets are increasingly resorting to Facebook, Twitter, and other social
media platforms to enhance their engagement with readers and listeners, receive feedback, and
crowd-source news on various issues.
Due to the restrictive communications space in the country,
blogs have become an important alternative platform for community organizations, minorities,
individuals and online journalists to express their views. New blogs hosted by Blogspot and
WordPress are on the rise, though as with journalists, some bloggers use pseudonyms out of fears of
Vladimir Mzaca, “What Online News Means for Zimbabwe,” Free African Media, April 5, 2011,
http://www.thezimbabwemail.com/opinion/7745.html; Tendai Chari, “Ethical Challenges Facing Zimbabwean Media in the
Context of the Internet,” Global Media Journal ‐ Africa Edition, Zimbabwe, 2009, Vol 3 (1),
globalmedia.journals.ac.za/pub/article/download/19/51; Committee to Protect Journalists, “Sweeping Surveillance Law to
Target ‘Imperialist‐Sponsored Journalists,’” press release, August 9, 2007, http://allafrica.com/stories/200708090943.html;
Barbara Borst, “African Journalists Struggle to Find their Role in Building Democracies,” Perspectives on Global Issues, Volume 2,
Issue 2, spring 2008, http://www.perspectivesonglobalissues.com/0301/borst.htm.
Everson Mushava, “Technology a Security Threat: Sekeremayi,” Newsday, May 9, 2013,
Tawanda Majoni, “ZANU PF Resolves to Jam Private Radio Stations,” Nehanda Radio, December 11, 2012,
Everson Mushava, “Shamu Attacked over Internet Control,” Newsday, December 20, 2012,
Zimbabwe All Media Products Survey, Research International Bureau, Harare September, Third Quarter Report, 2012.
The Newsday’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/NewsDay‐Zimbabwe/215170571826981 and ZiFM’s Twitter
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REEDOM ON THE
Independent news websites and other digital media outlets based overseas have emerged as an
important source of alternative information for those able to access them. The websites of outlets
such as New Zimbabwe and Nehanda Radio publish information often obtained from stringers or
other contacts based inside Zimbabwe, at times generating news that is later picked up by
mainstream media outlets. There is no concrete evidence of government manipulation of online
content, though there is some concern over the quality of the news in online publications that often
re-publish content from state-owned sources.
Civil society groups use social media platforms to support imprisoned political activists and human
rights defenders by providing instant updates on the country’s human rights situation and other
Radio stations such as Star and ZiFM are also increasingly using social
media as a tool to facilitate listener feedback and participation in their programs. Meanwhile,
Zimbabwean journalists, long divided across state-owned and independent media lines, have found
space on social media platforms to discuss current affairs and share information, contacts, and tips
on story ideas.
Nevertheless, the growing use of social media platforms has yet to manifest in
concrete social, political, or economic change in Zimbabwe.
In March 2013, a self-proclaimed disaffected ZANU-PF member created a Facebook page under
the moniker Baba Jukwa, which had drawn a following of over 300,000 Facebook users (compared
to the 100,000 followers both Mugabe and Tsvangirai have each) by July 2013. Characterizing
himself as a “Concerned father, fighting nepotism and directly linking community with their
Leaders, Government, MPs, and Ministers,”
Baba Jukwa quickly became a social media sensation
for daily posts that named and shamed politicians for alleged corruption and informed on the ruling
party’s supposed secrets. Most notably, the anonymous informant was credited with predicting the
death of a ZANU-PF member of parliament, Edward Chindori Chininga, who died in a suspicious
car accident in June 2013, nine days after Chininga had released a report on widespread corruption
in the country’s diamond mines.
Threatened by the Facebook page’s growing influence, Mugabe
reportedly offered a $300,000 reward for Baba Jukwa’s identity.
While the whistleblower’s
efforts on Facebook have yet to affect concrete change on the country’s political and social reality,
Baba Jukwa’s popularity has been described as representing “the Zimbabwean people’s growing
appetite for information and transparency, which will only be fuelled by increasing access to
“Free Cynthia Manjoro and 23 Other Glen View Residents NOW!” Facebook group,
http://www.facebook.com/groups/212089078834518/?fref=ts; Crisis Coalition Twitter page,
Newsroom Lingo’s Facebook page that brings Zimbabwe journalists from state and independent media,
Baba Jukwa’s Facebook page, accessed July 31, 2013, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Baba‐Jukwa/232224626922797.
“The Spirit of Wrath is Upon Us,” Economist, June 19, 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/middle‐east‐and‐
Mary Ann Jolley, “Mugabe Offers $300,00 for Outing of Anonymous Whistleblower Baba Jukwa,” ABC News, July 17, 2013,
Rebecca Regan‐Sachs, “Baba Jukwa vs. Mugabe – the Man On Facebook Standing Up to Zimbabwe’s President,” Think Africa
Press via All Africa, July 24, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201307241382.html?viewall=1.
REEDOM ON THE
A new constitution came into force in May 2013 that included provisions for freedom of expression
and of the press. Nevertheless, legal restrictions that contradicted the new constitutional guarantees
remained in place and were frequently used against journalists, particularly for violations in the
traditional media in the lead-up to the July 2013 general elections. Two mobile phone users were
arrested during the coverage period for sending text messages that allegedly insulted the president.
An investigative report in early 2013 uncovered evidence of a “massive” cyber training program for
Zimbabwean security agents facilitated by Iranian intelligence organizations.
In 2013, Zimbabwe adopted a new constitution that was approved by parliament in May and signed
into law by the president shortly thereafter.
Sections 60, 61, and 62 of the constitution guarantees
freedom of expression, press freedom, access to information, protection of sources of information
as well as the editorial independence of state-owned media. While these provisions are focused on
the traditional media, it is expected that the new rights will also extend online. Accordingly, online
journalists, bloggers, and citizens using social media platforms to share information can potentially
seek protection under the new constitution.
Nevertheless, there are no laws that specifically protect online modes of communication, and
bloggers are not recognized as eligible for accreditation as journalists. While the judiciary has
sometimes demonstrated a degree of autonomy through rulings that are not necessarily favorable to
the state, some in freedom of expression cases, the government often ignores such decisions. An
appointment process that allows for high levels of executive interference further compromises
Meanwhile, the country’s civil and criminal defamation laws, the Interception of Communications
Act of 2007, and the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (CODE) remain on the books and
apply equally to reporters in the traditional media and online. The CODE punishes anyone who
publicly undermines the authority of the president or insults him in any printed or electronic
medium with a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
In addition, Zimbabwe maintains restrictive
access to information and media laws, which include the Access to Information and Protection of
Privacy Act, the Criminal Codification Act, the Public Order and Security Act, and the Officials
Secrets Act, among others. Combined with the extrajudicial actions of both state and non-state
actors, these laws severely limit Zimbabweans’ ability to access and share information.
Since the signing of the Global Political Agreement at the end of 2008 that brokered a power-
sharing deal between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, violations against journalists have
decreased significantly, though the improvement has not entailed a change in the dominant political
Cris Chinaka, “Mugabe Signs Zimbabwe Constitution, Paving Way for Vote,” Reuters, May 22, 2013,
Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [Chapter 9:23], Act 23/2004, Government Gazette, June 3, 2005,
Constitution of Zimbabwe, http://www.gta.gov.zw/index.php/documents/constitution‐of‐zimbabwe.
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REEDOM ON THE
elite’s attitude against the independent media. Arrests,
verbal attacks, and harassment against
traditional media journalists, including expulsion from press conferences, still continue.
Penalties for online activities, however, have been less common. In one recent case, a South
African-based Zimbabwean man, Benias Madhakasi, was thrown in police custody in April 2012 and
held for three months for insulting the president after it was discovered that he had an image and
inscription on his mobile phone that read, “Happy 87th Birthday (Operation Matibili),” referring to
the president’s nickname. The prosecutor opposed bail until the High Court threw out the charges
in July 2012.
In a second case, Bulawayo resident Shantel Rusike was arrested on December 24,
2012 and held for four days after she was reported to the police for sending an image depicting
President Mugabe in a nude state via WhatsApp on her mobile phone.
Rusike, out on $100 bail,
faces charges of “causing hatred, contempt or ridicule of the president,” as delineated in the
As of mid-2013, her case was still before the courts.
Website owners, bloggers, and internet users are not required to register with the government,
though mobile phone users must register their SIM cards by submitting personal identity details to
the mobile operator, ostensibly to combat crime and curtail threatening or obscene
POTRAZ reported that approximately two million subscribers were
disconnected in mid-2011 as a result of non-compliance,
though the number of registered mobile
telephone users increased thereafter.
Meanwhile, POTRAZ has maintained a September 2011 ban—reportedly enacted for security
reasons—on the use of the BlackBerry messenger service that enables users to send free messages.
The ban went into effect in response to unfounded fears that the service had facilitated the 2011
Arab uprisings as well as the violent protests that took place in England in August of the same
In mid-2011, POTRAZ director general Charles Manzi Sibanda announced that the
regulator was examining the compliance of BlackBerry’s encryption technology with the
Interception of Communications Act, which requires that all telecommunication services allow
“Police Charge Zimind Editor, Reporter,” Newsday, May 8, 2013, http://www.newsday.co.zw/2013/05/08/police‐charge‐
Ndakaziva Majaka, “Mudede gags Media,” Daily News, accessed 7 January 2013,
“Court Frees Man Found with ‘Nude’ Mugabe Pictures,” Nehanda Radio, July 25, 2012,
Alex Bell, “‘Naked’ Mugabe Picture Lands Woman in Court,” Nehanda Radio, January 9, 2013,
Section 33(2)(a)(ii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act/CODE Chapter 9:23.
“POTRAZ Issues Mobile Phone Registration Reminder,” Technology Zimbabwe, January 31, 2011,
Tawanda Musarurwa, “Zimbabwe: Tele‐Density Rate takes Dip,” The Herald via AllAfrica, May 10, 2011,
http://allafrica.com/stories/201105110010.html, cited in L.S.M Kabweza, “ICT Policy and New Media Cultures in Southern
Africa – Zimbabwe Report, Internal report for the Department of Media Studies” (South Africa: University of the Witwatersrand,
BlackBerry formerly operated as Research in Motion. “BlackBerry Messenger a Dream,” The Zimbabwean, June 5, 2012,
“Mugabe Vetoes Blackberry Service,” The Zimbabwean, September 28, 2011,
REEDOM ON THE
The POTRAZ decision was still outstanding as of October 2012.
encrypted communication applications, such as Skype, remain accessible.
The Post and Telecommunications Act of 2000 allows the government to monitor
communications, including e-mail, and requires ISPs to supply information to government officials
The act also obligates ISPs to report any e-mail with “offensive” or “threatening”
content. Meanwhile, the Interception of Communications Act of 2007 established a Monitoring of
Interception of Communications Center with the powers to oversee traffic in all
telecommunications services and to intercept phone calls, e-mails, and faxes under the pretext of
The Act further requires telecommunications operators and ISPs to install
necessary surveillance technology at their own expense and to intercept information on the state’s
Failure to comply is punishable with a fine and sentence of up to three years in prison.
Warrants allowing the monitoring and interception of communications are issued by the minister of
information at his discretion; consequently, there is no substantial judicial oversight or other
independent safeguard against abuse. The extent and frequency of monitoring therefore remains
uncertain. There are also reports that the Central Intelligence Organization monitors all networks
connected to the IP world’s routing system through the Interception of Communications Unit,
which is administered by a top ZANU-PF politician.
Following the passage of the ICA in 2007, there were unconfirmed reports that Zimbabwe’s
government had received surveillance technology and training from China,
and suspicions of
Chinese technical assistance in controlling ICTs remain strong.
More recently in March 2013, the
news and internet radio station, Nehanda Radio, reported that it had confirmed a “massive” cyber
training program that had begun in 2007 with assistance from Iranian intelligence organizations.
According to the report, personnel from the Zimbabwean armed forces and the CIO have been
undergoing intensive cyber training in “technological warfare techniques, counter-intelligence and
methods of suppressing popular revolts among others, every six months.”
Section 12 (1) (a) of the Act reads: “Notwithstanding any other law, a telecommunication service provider shall provide a
telecommunication service which has the capacity to be intercepted.”
BlackBerry Zimbabwe’s Facebook post, October 14, 2012, https://www.facebook.com/BlackBerry.Zimbabwe.
Postal and Telecommunications Act, http://www.potraz.gov.zw/files/Postal_Act.pdf.
Reporters Without Borders, “All Communications Can Now be Intercepted Under New Law Signed by Mugabe,” news release,
August 6, 2007, http://en.rsf.org/zimbabwe‐all‐communications‐can‐now‐be‐06‐08‐2007,17623.html. The law is available at
Nqobizitha Khumalo, “Zim Internet Service Providers Struggle to Buy Spying Equipment,” ZimOnline, August 10, 2007,
“Mugabe Vetoes Blackberry Service,” The Zimbabwean, September 28, 2011,
Lance Guma, “Too Much to Monitor for Snooping Squads,” SW Radio Africa, August 7, 2007,
http://www.swradioafrica.com/news070807/snoop070807.htm; Reporters Without Borders, “All Communications Can Now Be
Intercepted under New Law Signed by Mugabe,” news release, August 6, 2007; “Zimbabwe’s bugging bill condemned,” BBC
News, June 15, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6755753.stm .
Amber Will, “Peeking Behind the Curtain: Analyzing Chinese Aid and Influence in Zimbabwe,” The First Tranche (blog),
AidData, July 30, 2013, http://blog.aiddata.org/2013/07/updated‐peeking‐behind‐curtain.html.
Itai Mushekwe, “Iran Helping Zimbabwe Snoop on Internet,” Nehanda Radio, March 27, 2013, http://bit.ly/YKatMO.
REEDOM ON THE
There have been no reported cases of attacks against bloggers and online journalists, despite
concerns over potential violence and unrest surrounding the 2013 elections in July and its
aftermath. In the first half of 2013, there was an explosion of political content on social media
platforms, with bold and unrestrained political discussions taking place, such as on the Facebook
page of the anonymous informant, Baba Jukwa (see “Limits on Content”).
particularly those linked to the July 2013 elections, have purportedly alarmed the security and
political sector, and reports indicate that the ruling party and its security agencies are increasingly
focusing on attacking and uncovering the identities of anonymous social media activists.
technology the Zimbabwean authorities do have to monitor internet users has nonetheless failed to
expose the true identity of Baba Jukwa,
though the whistleblower’s Facebook and Twitter
accounts have reportedly been subject to several hacking attacks, resulting in the deletion of some of
Jukwa’s damaging posts.
The government has reportedly used Chinese assistance to hack into websites of independent
newspapers, although this also cannot be confirmed. In December 2011, for example, the website
of the Daily News, one of Zimbabwe’s private newspapers, experienced a series of attacks on its
website, which the Daily News’s information technology department blamed on Chinese hackers
working with in conjunction with the Zimbabwean authorities.
Meanwhile, government websites
are increasingly the target of hacking attacks, with the website of the Ministry of Mines most
recently hacked in March 2013.
Everson Mushava, “Baba Jukwa distresses ZANU PF,” Newsday, April 30, 2013,
“Baba Jukwa: Legion of Malicious Engagement,” The Herald via All Africa, May 14, 2013,
“Should Africa Be Worried About Chinese Cyber‐Espionage?” ICT Africa, June 2, 2013,
“Julian Assange, Baba Jukwa and Cyberpunks,” ICT Africa, May 4, 2013, http://ictafrica.info/FullNews.php?id=9002.
“Chinese Cyber Spooks Intensify Zimbabwe Media Attacks, The Zimbabwe Mail targeted,” The Zimbabwe Mail, December 30,
REEDOM ON THE
Definitions are based on Freedom on the Net 2013 research, Merriam Webster Online, www.merriam-
webster.com and Webopedia: Online Computer Dictionary for Computer and Internet Terms and Definitions,
3G: Third generation mobile communications technology, which allows internet access through
4G: Fourth generation wireless communications standard, allowing broadband mobile internet
access. Several technologies are considered 4G standards, including 4G LTE and WiMAX.
4G LTE: Short for long term evolution, 4G LTE allows mobile internet access up to 10 times
faster than 3G.
ADSL: (see DSL)
Apps: Short for software applications, apps are programs designed for use online or on a
mobile device. Communications apps like WhatsApp and Skype allow real-time messaging or
Blog: Short for weblog, blogs are highly-customizable personal websites, often published on
specific Hosting Services. While blogs cover a broad range of issues and activities, many
provide an important platform for free expression and political debate.
Blogosphere: All the blogs on the internet or within a specific country, for example, the
Broadband: A high-speed internet connection in which a single wire can carry many channels
at once, allowing a high data-transfer rate. Broadband is necessary for viewing multimedia
Bulletin Board System (BBS): An electronic message center. Most bulletin boards serve
specific interest groups; users can post information or products for sale, and other posters can
REEDOM ON THE
CDMA: Short for code-division multiple access, CDMA is a 3G mobile technology with high
bandwidth, allowing efficient internet access via cellphone.
Chat Room: An online location that allows multiple users to engage in a real-time, text-based
conversation or discussion
Cybercafe: Any commercial location where patrons can use computers to access the internet
for a specified fee and time.
Cyberspace: The nonphysical world created by computer systems. The internet, for example,
creates a cyberspace within which people can communicate with one another, do research, or
simply window shop.
DDoS Attack: Distributed denial of service attacks try to prevent a website from functioning,
either temporarily or indefinitely, by overloading it with so many requests for data that it slows
down or crashes. Those responsible often infiltrate computers around the world and program
them to join in the assault as an automated network, or “botnet.”
Dial-up: An internet connection over a standard telephone line, usually with a very slow speed
that makes it difficult to access some features, especially multimedia applications.
Dongle: A device that attaches to a computer via a USB or other port to provide access to
certain applications. If equipped with 3G or WiMax technology, a dongle allows portable
DNS: Short for domain name system. DNS is an internet service that translates alphabetic
domain names—the appellations commonly used to identify websites—into numerical IP
addresses. Every time a user enters a domain name, a DNS service must translate the name
into the corresponding IP address; for example, the domain name example.com might translate
DSL and ADSL: Digital subscriber lines allow data transmission over the wires of a local
telephone network, at a faster speed than dial-up but without obstructing telephone use on
the same line. Variations, grouped as xDSL, include ADSL or asymmetric digital subscriber
lines, which feature a greater flow of data in one direction than in the other, so that download
speeds are often much faster than upload speeds.
Fiber optic cables: Cables made of glass or plastic fibers, used to transmit data. Fiber optic
cables have a much greater bandwidth than metal wires typically used for local telephone
networks, can carry more data, and are less susceptible to interference.
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