HARARE – A journalist was detained by soldiers in Harare on Friday morning after they found a camouflage umbrella in his car.
Edmund Kudzayi, the former editor of the Sunday Mail and publisher of the ‘Kukurigo’ WhatsApp news service, was held at a police checkpoint while driving through Borrowdale suburb just after 10AM.
He told ZimLive by phone as he was being driven to Borrowdale Police Station that soldiers wearing Military Police bibs had searched his vehicle, where they came across the umbrella.
“They wanted me to pay a $100 fine for unlawful possession of a camouflage uniform but I was never going to pay it because an umbrella is not a uniform, the Zimbabwe National Army does not have an umbrella as part of its uniform as far as I know,” Kudzayi said.
When Kudzayi asked a police officer, as a ZimLive correspondent listened on the phone, what he was being charged with, the officer replied: “Section 32.”
Section 32 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act criminalises unlawful possession and wearing of “any camouflage uniform.” It defines camouflage uniform as “any article of wearing apparel made of material carrying military-style camouflage markings.”
The soldiers handed the journalist over to the police who booked him at Borrowdale Police Station. His lawyer, Admire Rubaya, had arrived at the police station around midday to try and secure his release.
Military police have been a part of police roadblocks since November 2017 when former President Robert Mugabe was ousted in a military coup. Their involvement in policing duties widened following nationwide fuel protests on January 14.
The government claims criminals wearing army uniforms have been responsible for a spate of criminal activities since the January protests, including fraud, armed robbery, rape and murder. Some of the uniforms were allegedly stolen, the government claims by opposition activists.
The Zimbabwe National Army, in a February 20 public notice, said it would conduct “snap searches for ZNA uniforms and other resembling clothing items in residential areas starting this weekend.”
“This has been necessitated by the sharp rise in cases of theft, robbery, etc, executed using military regalia mostly by rogue elements of the society. Members of the public are urged to voluntarily surrender these clothing items to the search teams before the searches are conducted or surrender them to the nearest police station of army camp,” the army said.
The threat of house-to-house searches will alarm Zimbabweans who are still reeling from a brutal crackdown by the military in the wake of the January protests. Human rights groups say over 17 people have been killed and over 600 others brutalised after the police and army went door-to-door in residential areas on the pretext of hunting for “looters.”