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

The NewsHawks, a privately owned investigative online newspaper, announced on Tuesday 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, according to news reports and The NewsHawks’ managing editor Dumisani Muleya, who spoke with CPJ.

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

“Zimbabwean authorities must 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,” said Angela Quintal, head of CPJ’s Africa program in New York.

“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.”

Following publication of the article, The NewsHawks’ news editor and reporters were threatened and intimidated, including through physical surveillance and call monitoring to identify their sources, Muleya said, declining to provide further details for publication.

“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.”

On 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. 

Also on Tuesday, The NewsHawks said in a statement: “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’s texts and emails to Charamba and ZDF spokesperson Colonel Alphios Makotore requesting comment on the case did not receive any replies.

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.