Journalists’ lawyer argues for referral to higher court

New York, July 22, 2002—The attorney representing three journalists from Zimbabwe’s Daily News who went on trial today for violating the country’s harsh press laws asked that the case be referred to the Supreme Court, claiming that the section of the law under which the journalists have been charged is unconstitutional.

A ruling is expected on Wednesday, July 24.

The charges of “abusing journalistic privileges” and “publishing false information” stem from a story published in the April 23 edition of the Daily News. The story, written by reporter Lloyd Mudiwa, alleged that young members of the ruling ZANU-PF party beheaded an opposition supporter. The story was later declared inaccurate, and the newspaper published an apology.

Nevertheless, Mudiwa, staff writer Collin Chiwanza, and editor-in-chief Geoff Nyarota were charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The journalists’ lawyer contends that Section 80 of the act, which outlines the “abuse of journalistic privilege,” violates Zimbabwe’s constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression.

Charges against Chiwanza were dropped on May 7, but on June 20 the state indicated it would reinstate charges against him. Although his name was on the charge sheet for today’s trial, he was not summoned to appear in court, nor was his name called during the actual trial. It is unclear whether the state intends to pursue the charge.

Since March 15, fourteen journalists have been arrested and charged with violating Zimbabwe’s various anti-media laws. [See CPJ’s special report, Twilight of a Despot: Attacks on Press Freedom in Zimbabwe, 1999 to the present]