Digital Rights and Citizen JournalismDigital Rights Academy, a Paradigm Initiative workshok held in Harare. In the Picture Thobekile Matimbe ( Partnerships and Engagements Manager at PIN)

Digital Rights for Citizen Journalists

A report compiled by Denzel Nemhara and Richard M Kawazi

Cutting to the chase, if you did not know – Digital Rights are just as important as any other fundamental human rights.

Digital Rights are human rights in the age of the internet.

Twitter, the biggest microblogging platform has been acquired by the world’s wealthiest man Elon Musk who is also a futurist promising free speech on Twitter.

Musk believes that Citizen Journalism is the future of information dissemination without establishment bias bias:

According to the basic principles of ZNCJ, anyone who consistently produces and distributes online material to meet local communities’ information requirements qualifies as a citizen journalist.

Here are some areas that violate the Digital Rights of Citizen Journalists and Online Content Creators that will be discussed in detail.

  • Hefty penalties on incitement laws used as a deterrent for Citizen journalists to exercise freedom of expression.
  • Spreading what government qualifies as false information
  • Incitement laws are used as a tool to control and silence activists
  • Interceptions of communications used as a tool to monitor and invade the privacy of digital activists are often labelled enemies of the state.
  • Silencing of whistle-blowers fearing charges of spreading false information.

The future of information flow is citizen journalism. Why ? You will discover that profit making media houses in Zimbabwe are captured by the interests of advertisers and politicians. Information flow has lost credibility and flawed with bias, since the owners are pushing the envelope. Which paves way for Citizen Journalism as the most preferable source of objective information.

According to ZNCJ, citizen journalism will play a major role in the dissemination of trustworthy local news and information by the year 2030 with the aide of rigorous fact checking.

In actuality, we picture a day when a micro-blogger from a rural and distant area of Zimbabwe communicates with the rest of the globe about their personal experiences in their community.

Microbloggers must, however, have access to digital technology and be able to afford them. They have the right to immediate access to affordable digital technology so they can produce and share content about their neighbourhood.

That job is better done by a Citizen Journalist who is part of the community, than a salaried news correspondent who has to visit the community.

Here is another example that demonstrates the future of citizen journalism in the wake of digital rights.

Picture this: Astronomy is growing beyond the capabilities of Space Science authorities such as  NASA (The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration)  and Space X projects. Remote communities far from the global North do not only rely on NASA for their information needs.

Today, Astro-Photographers on social media are sharing images of the universe. So, imagine this: Beyond the capabilities of NSSA and Space, astronomy is expanding. The NASA is not the only source of information for isolated communities far from the global North.

Astro photographers are now posting pictures of the universe on social media. So, keep in mind that billions of people quickly receive all of this information via social media instantly via the internet.

This article can categorically state that without access to the internet – people from the global South, particularly Zimbabwe would not have been aware of the developments around Astrophysics and special voyages into interstellar space.

Thanks to access to the internet and ICT devices, the global South is aware of developments such as the curiosity and perseverance roves working on the surface of mars.

This article clearly asserts that people from the global South, especially Zimbabwe, would not have been aware of the discoveries around astrophysics and special trips into interstellar space if they did not have access to the internet.

The global South is aware of advancements like the scientist robots, Curiosity and Perseverance rovers working on the surface thanks to access to the internet and ICT devices.

This needs to be emphasized. Having access to this data is not a privilege. Everyone has the right to access knowledge that is beyond their realm of understanding.

ZNCJ asserts that people from the global South, especially Zimbabwe, would not have been aware of the breakthroughs in astrophysics and unique space missions without access to the internet.

We must emphasise this here. It is not a privilege to access this information. It is the right for everyone to access information that reaches beyond their imagination.

This informative paper will unpack the following in the simplest way possible.

Also, we shall unpack and evaluate how Zimbabwe’s Cyber Security and Data Protection Act is failing to serve the best interests of content creators in Zimbabwe.

  • What are Digital Rights for Citizen Journalists ?
  • What are digital rights in the context of Zimbabwe ?
  • ZNCJs position on digital rights for content creators

ZNCJ had the opportunity to participate in a hybrid Digital Rights Academy organized by Paradigm Initiative and hosted by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The Digital Rights Academy amplified the awareness of Digital Rights in Zimbabwe. ZNCJ has committed to unlocking the potential of a country that respects the digital rights of its people for soci0-economic empowerment.

Digital Rights in Zimbabwe explained

Digital rights concern every Zimbabwean and every individual who lives in the country.

In the context of Zimbabwe, Digital Rights include everything that involves access and usage of digital technologies.

In essence, every Zimbabwean has the right to participate freely on the internet and have equitable access to digital technologies – to empower themselves socially, economically, or politically.

In the context of Zimbabwe, Digital Rights involve the protection of every citizen’s right to afford, access, create and publish digital content. Digital Rights are Human Rights in the internet age.

Why are Digital Rights Important

At ZNCJ, we acknowledge the current existence of the global village. A digital world without political borders. Mankind is now living in a world without borders as a result of the internet and digital technologies including Artificial Intelligence AI.

Our main focus is the inclusion and full participation of Africa in the global village. Socio-economic empowerment and participation of all ages, genders, and nationalities on the internet.

Opening up the internet and investing in digital technologies in Africa will unlock opportunities for Africans to exploit the socio-economic opportunities that exist in the global village.

In as much as, mankind is guaranteed freedom of expression as a fundamental right – Africans must also be afforded the right to access, create and publish content online.

Zimbabwe needs to create a new culture and attitude towards the digitisation of things. The internet and digital technologies are not only for the youth and elite but a right to everyone who lives regardless of their social status.

Everyone has the right to know that they can communicate beyond their physical and geographical borders.

ZNCJ’s Position on Digital rights

Statement of fact in digital rights, there is no absolute internet freedom.

At ZNCJ, we opine that every individual must be guaranteed their freedom of expression in digital spaces.

Citizen Journalists must have the right to access, create, publish, and express themselves without fear of persecution.

Zimbabwe’s current Cyber Security and Data Protection Act and Incitement laws as defined in section 187 of the Criminal Law Code are used as a deterrent for Citizen Journalists to fully access, create and publish content on digital platforms.

Here are some areas that violate the Digital Rights of Citizen Journalists and Online Content Creators

  • Hefty penalties on incitement laws
  • Incitement laws are used as a tool to control and silence activists
  • Interceptions of communications are used as a tool to monitor and invade the privacy of activists
  • Silencing whistle-blowers by using the spreading of false information

The Fear of spreading false Information

The Data Protection Act contains provisions that still undermine freedom of expression that is codified in section 61 of the Constitution Zimbabwe.  Of major concern is Clause 164C, which criminalises what government deems as “false information online”. The offense attracts a prison sentence of up to five years, a fine, or both.

True or false information is not absolute. However, Section 164C of the Data Protection Act criminalises the spread of falsehoods and carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.

ZNCJ argues that: What amounts to falsehoods? Who is to determine falsehoods in the wake of digital rights abuses and a captured judiciary in Zimbabwe?

This law is used as a deterrent for whistle-blowers from exposing corruption in fear of stiff penalties.

Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono led explosive evidence that implicated top government officials in the DRAX scandal which attracted charges of spreading falsehoods.

The piece of law is a direct attack on the digital rights of anyone who intends to create and publish content online.

Now we are faced with a situation where Citizen Journalists are forced into the confines of self-censorship due to fear of persecution.

Hefty penalties on Incitement

The international award-winning winning author was recently convicted of inciting violence when she protested Hopewell Chin’ono’s arrest in 2020 following a dossier that resulted in charges of inciting violence and spreading falsehoods.

The law is used as a tool by politicians to silence digital activists to convene on internet spaces where they can freely associate.

It is no longer a case that an activist has to address masses of people in a stadium, but the same can happen on Twitter spaces and podcasts.  

Interception of communications

The Cybersecurity and Monitoring of Interception of Communications Centre allow legal authorisation for the government and Executive to monitor and intercept communications of targeted persons. Invariably, the targeted persons are purported enemies of the state with examples being Citizen Journalists and political activists.

This is a clear violation of digital privacy rights. The Interceptions of Communications Act, 2007 had been abused to target and control Citizen Journalists who are upfront with exposing maladministration.

The law has been used to monitor and silence bloggers such as Baba Jukwa, and Evan Mawarire who led the famous movement #ThisFlag.

The law immobilizes digital activities and infringes on freedom of expression.

ZNCJ strongly opines that every individual has the right to digital privacy and association unless it possesses a national security threat such as terrorism and illicit money flows that may harm Zimbabwe.

Any interceptions of communications that are politically motivated are a clear violation of digital rights.


All Zimbabweans must be afforded equal opportunities to access the global community through the free creation and publication of digital content.

It is with immediate effect that Zimbabwe becomes conscious of its Digital Rights.

There is a lot of potentials to be realised in socio-economic gains by the people of Zimbabwe by fully exploiting digital technologies.

Internet penetration must increase in Zimbabwe as well as access to digital technologies to perform as the catalyst for positive change in communities.

If you support Information Dissemination on Digital Rights and Open Internet, click here to support ZNCJ. The fund goes to capacity building of Citizen journalists on pursuing reports on Digital Rights and Open Internet Democracy.

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