Foreign correspondent on trial, risks two years in jail

New York, June 11, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the upcoming trial of Andrew Meldrum, a U.S. journalist based in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, on charges of “abusing journalistic privilege” and publishing “false information.”

Meldrum, who writes for the London Guardian, The Economist, and contributes to Radio France Internationale, is due to appear in court tomorrow, June 12.

If convicted, Meldrum faces up to two years in prison and a fine of as much as 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$1,818).

A permanent resident of Zimbabwe, where he has been living and working for two decades, Meldrum was taken into police custody on May 1. He is accused of violating Zimbabwe’s draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in connection with an April 23 story, later discovered to be inaccurate, stating that youths from the ruling ZANU-PF had beheaded opposition supporter Brandina Tadyanemhandu in Mashonaland West Province.

Two Zimbabwean reporters, Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza of the independent Daily News, were also arrested on March 30 for reporting the same inaccuracies. The Daily News retracted the story a day later in a front-page apology to the ZANU-PF after it was established that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which initially provided the information to reporters, had been misled by the alleged victim’s husband.

Charges against Chiwanza were dropped on May 7, but Mudiwa is still preparing to stand trial.

Meldrum will be the first journalist tried under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which embattled Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, signed into law on March 15. Ten journalists, including Mudiwa, are awaiting trial under the same law.