AP Photographer cleared of all charges, allowed to leave country

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New York, May 3, 2000— Zimbabwe authorities cleared all charges yesterday against Associated Press photographer Obed Zilwa, who had been held on suspicion of perpetrating a terrorist bomb attack on the Harare offices of the Daily News, local sources told CPJ.

Zilwa, a South African citizen, was arrested by Harare airport police on April 26 while on his way home from covering Zimbabwe’s ongoing political crisis. The police alleged that he matched an eyewitness description of a person in a car from which the explosive device was hurled on April 22. No one was injured in the explosion.

Police reportedly questioned Zilwa for more than seven hours upon his arrest. Besides querying him about the bomb explosion at the Daily News, police also asked for his personal opinion on the current wave of illegal occupations of white-owned land by veterans of Zimbabwe’s independence war, CPJ’s sources say.

Zilwa was one of the first photographers on the scene after the April 22 explosion. He had just driven by when he heard the loud noise, and quickly returned to take pictures, CPJ’s sources say. The Meikles Hotel, where Zilwa and most other international journalists have been staying, is just a few blocks from The Daily News, and foreign reporters were among the first at the scene. After the bombing, authorities said the media’s quick arrival raised their suspicions.

Zilwa was released from detention on Saturday, April 29, after spending just over 48 hours in jail. He was released into the custody of his lawyer, and had his passport and plane ticket confiscated. On May 2, he reported to the attorney general’s office where officials told him that the charges had been dropped; they handed him back his passport and plane ticket.