British journalists face trial on accreditation charges

New York, April 4, 2005—Zimbabwean government prosecutors are pushing ahead with a criminal trial of two journalists from the London-based Sunday Telegraph on accreditation charges that could bring two years in prison, the journalists’ lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said today.

Toby Harnden, the newspaper’s chief foreign correspondent, and photographer Julian Simmonds have been jailed since their arrest on March 31 at a polling station in Norton, a town near the capital, Harare. The journalists had traveled to Zimbabwe to report on that day’s parliamentary elections.

Harnden and Simmonds have been charged with working without accreditation under Zimbabwe’s draconian media law, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which requires all journalists in Zimbabwe to register with the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC). The journalists also face a charge under Zimbabwe’s immigration law, Mtetwa told CPJ.

George Charamba, Zimbabwe’s secretary for information and publicity, told the state-run Herald newspaper last week that the two journalists would be deported. But a trial was still scheduled for Tuesday, and prosecutors today invoked their authority to override a magistrate’s decision granting bail to the journalists, Mtetwa said.

According to state media in Zimbabwe, hundreds of foreign journalists were accredited to cover the elections. However, dozens were also refused accreditation and accused of political bias, including all journalists from the BBC and from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Charamba said in a statement that the BBC journalists were denied access because “they already perceive the elections as not free and fair,” according to the Zambia-based independent daily The Post. At least one journalist from the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph‘s sister paper, was denied accreditation, which Charamba said was “due to having previously broken Zimbabwean and international broadcasting law.”

“The government’s effort to pick and choose the international journalists covering the Zimbabwean election violates the spirit of international law, which affirms the right of all people to seek and receive information regardless of frontiers,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “Toby Harnden and Julian Simmonds must be released immediately and unconditionally, and all charges against them dropped.”

Television journalist also deported
CPJ also condemns the April 1 arrest and deportation of a correspondent for Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television (STV). Fredrik Sperling, who is based in South Africa, was arrested in central Harare and deported, despite having been accredited to cover the elections.

Sperling told CPJ that he was brought to a police station outside of Harare on March 30, after filming a large farm expropriated several years ago by the Zimbabwean government and now occupied by a relative of President Robert Mugabe. Initially released, Sperling said, he was later arrested and deported by signed order of MIC Chairman Tafataona Mahoso.

The editors-in-chief of two STV news programs sent a letter protesting Sperling’s deportation to Zimbabwe’s ambassador in Sweden. Sperling is also appealing the government’s decision to brand him a “prohibited immigrant,” which bars his re-entry into Zimbabwe.