By Beatrice Chabaya

The Committee to Protect Journalists has called on Zimbabwean authorities to immediately end the intimidation and surveillance of journalists working for The NewsHawks online newspaper and ensure they can report safely about the military.

Privately owned investigative online newspaper, The NewsHawks, announced on Tuesday via Twitter that it had halted further reporting on its February 12 story that three army generals were dismissed following allegations of corruption, citing fears for the safety of its journalists.

In its statement, The NewsHawks said that reporters had been removed from the story with immediate effect, it would not publish follow-ups, and stories were pulled out of last Tuesday’s latest PDF edition.

CPJ’s Africa program head Angela Quintal has called on Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee the safety of journalists and take action against state officials whose threats and intimidation have forced The NewsHawks staff to censor their reporting on allegations of military corruption.

“Zimbabwe’s defense force should not be above press scrutiny, particularly when senior military officers are implicated in allegations of public sector corruption involving taxpayers’ funds. They must be barred from spying on journalists to uncover the identity of their confidential sources,” Quintal said in New York.

The NewsHawks’ managing editor Dumisani Muleya, who spoke with CPJ, said the publication’s news editor and reporters were threatened and intimidated, including through physical surveillance and call monitoring to identify their sources.

“There was pressure from all over…so we had to make a decision to stop following this story up. There’s no point in endangering the lives of reporters in pursuit of a story,” Muleya told CPJ.

In a February 16 statement that The NewsHawks published on social media, a spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) confirmed that three general officers were under investigation. It also noted “with great concern attempts by The NewsHawks and other media outlets to peddle falsehoods.”

And last Tuesday, presidential spokesperson George Charamba told the Zimbabwean press to exercise “care and sensitivity” when reporting on “security structures,” local media reported.

“The ZDF has got its own internal processes to investigate any allegation against any of its members and it is always prudent for the media to follow, rather than seek to lead such a process. Leading through advocacy muddies the water and may invite some responses, which may not be that palatable,” Charamba was quoted as saying by Zimbabwean outlets.

However, The NewsHawks, said in a statement the same day that “we are not being silenced, but forced to make some strategic decisions or choices to secure the safety of our reporters. Self-censorship and silence are not an option in investigative journalism, yet necessary if only to ensure journalists’ safety and wellbeing, at least for the time being.”

CPJ made efforts to get comments from Charamba and ZDF spokesperson Colonel Alphios Makotore by did not receive any replies.

According to CPJ, The NewsHawks’ journalist Bernard Mpofu was also threatened and forced to go into hiding in 2021 after publishing several articles, including an exclusive about an emergency landing of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s helicopter, the outlet reported.