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Port Elizabeth - Amnesty International on Thursday called a police raid on the newsroom of a Zimbabwe online news site, 263 Chat, in the capital city a blatant assault on the right to freedom of expression and media freedom.

The police chased reporter Lovejoy Mtongwiza to the website's offices after he was seen filming them removing vendors from the streets in Harare, Amnesty said in a statement. It said the reporter ran into the offices and that the police, who had followed him, fired teargas into the newsroom.

"Today’s attack on the 263 Chat offices was designed to send a chilling message to journalists and shows the lengths the Zimbabwean police are prepared to go to muzzle media freedom," said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.

“The authorities must end the attack on the media and launch a prompt, thorough and effective investigation into this attack and ensure that all suspected perpetrators are identified and brought to justice.”

263 Chat is an online news site which reports on political, economic and social issues in Zimbabwe.

Reporter Lovejoy Mtongwiza was deployed to the city centre to take pictures of a Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) and Harare City Council operation to remove street vendors, Amnesty said in the statement.

When a group of police and council officers pursued Mtongwiza, he ran away to his employer’s office. The police followed him and fired tear gas into the 263 Chat newsroom, where 14 other journalists were working," the statement said.

"Officers also seized a mobile phone from one of the reporters," it said.

African News Agency (ANA)