New York, May 23, 2000 — The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismissed charges against reporters Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto for publishing a report alleging a military coup plot against President Robert Mugabe, according to international reports and CPJ’s sources in Harare.
Supreme Court Justice Nicholas McNally ruled yesterday that the law under which the two journalists had been charged was unclear and should be re-written to conform with the country’s constitution, CPJ sources say. “This section is too intimidating. No one can be sure whether what he says or writes will not attract prosecution and imprisonment,” McNally said in a written judgment.
Chavunduka, editor of the Harare-based Standard newspaper, and his chief reporter Choto were charged on January 21, 1999, with publishing false information “likely to cause fear and despondency.” Filed under Section 50(2) of the Law and Order Maintenance Act of 1960, the charge resulted from an article in the January 10 edition of The Sunday Standard, reporting that 23 soldiers had been arrested in December 1998 on charges of attempting to topple the Mugabe regime.
Chavunduka and Choto challenged the validity of the provision under which they were charged, arguing that the legislation was both too vague and too draconian.
The two journalists were detained at a secret location, where government agents allegedly beat them and applied electric shocks to their hands, feet, and genitals. The agents also submerged the journalists’ heads in drums of water and demanded that they reveal their sources. When Chavunduka and Choto were brought to court on January 21, they both had cigarette burns on their bodies. Independent medical sources subsequently confirmed the allegations of torture.
The two journalists have filed civil and criminal charges against the police and military for wrongful arrest, detention, assault, and torture. Earlier this month, the court ordered the country’s police chief to investigate the journalists’ accusations.
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