Zimbabwe's government has widened its campaign to silence dissent, ordering a blogger who had written critical posts of President Robert Mugabe to report to police last week.
The African nation's regime has recently cranked up its clampdown on hundreds of critics and has been arresting people who have allegedly insulted the president verbally or on social media networks. In Zimbabwe, citizens can face charges of undermining the authority of, or insulting Mugabe under Section 33 (b) of Zimbabwe's Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23, which came into law in 2002.
On Tuesday (12 April), police summoned the blogger, Mlondozi Ndlovu, who wrote an article on an alleged plot to bomb a dairy plant owned by the first family published on the the website for the Zimbabwe Sentinel newspaper.
The Zimbabwe Sentinel is run by the Zimbabwe Media Center, which also provides facilities to freelance reporters.
The head of the Zimbabwe Media Center, Ernest Mudzengi, and two of his colleagues were also summoned by police on Thursday and Friday, and Mudzengi was questioned for nine hours over the dairy plant bomb piece, according to local media.
Press freedom advocates describe the latest summons as a strengthening of the authorities' crackdown on journalists, and on social media platforms. In March, Thompson Joseph Mloyi, a police officer, landed himself in trouble for allegedly describing Mugabe as "too old to rule" and saying he married "a prostitute".
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) this month said it has assisted 127 people arrested for posts on social media platforms - including Facebook and Twitter - since August, and has represented more than 150 people charged with insulting Mugabe since 2010, although most cases were later dropped. The group has challenged the legislation under Section 33 (b), claiming it violated freedom of expression.
'Sending a chilling effect among media practitioners'
"The police are now trying to harass the journalists under the pretext that they are investigating a story that they would have carried," Nhlanhla Ngwenya, who runs the Zimbabwe office of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), told Voice of America.
"Spending hours in a police cell being interrogated on a story which itself happened publicly is chilling enough for any journalist who intends to pursue sensitive stories. For us as MISA, we condemn this practice which is rearing its ugly head in our journalism. And we call upon the authorities to just stop it forthwith as it is sending a chilling effect among media practitioners," Ngwenya added.
Addressing party supporters on 2 April, Mugabe hinted at plans to introduce more draconian monitoring of the internet and other social media platforms like Facebook, or the smartphone messaging app What's App, saying technology was being abused by many Zimbabweans.
During his statement, Mugabe referred to China's security measures to block a number of websites including Facebook, YouTube and Google, as well as news sources such as Time magazine or The Economist.