Journalist for banned newspaper goes on trial

New York, August 12, 2005—The trial of a journalist accused of working without accreditation for the banned Daily News opened yesterday in a Harare court, according to his lawyer and the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA). Kelvin Jakachira faces up to two years in prison in what is seen as a test case for other former Daily News journalists.

Jakachira is accused of working for the banned paper between January and September 2003 without the government license required by the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). The Daily News, Zimbabwe’s only independent daily, was forced to close in September 2003 after the Supreme Court ruled that it was operating illegally under AIPPA.

Jakachira’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, told CPJ the defense presented evidence that her client had applied for a license from the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC), but received no reply—meaning that he was not operating illegally under AIPPA. MIC chairman Mahoso Tafataona argued that his agency could not accredit Jakachira to work for the Daily News because it was a banned publication, she said.

The case was adjourned to August 17. At least eight other former Daily News journalists are facing similar charges and are likely to be brought to court in October, according to MISA. Their prosecution could depend on the outcome of this case, CPJ sources said.

“Prosecuting a journalist for doing his job speaks volumes about the appalling state of press freedom in Zimbabwe and flies in the face of basic international standards for freedom of expression,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We call on the government to drop these unfounded charges against Jakachira and his colleagues, to permit the Daily News to reopen, and to repeal the repressive AIPPA.”

Since AIPPA became law in February 2002, the government of President Robert Mugabe has used it to detain and harass dozens of critical journalists, and to close four newspapers. It has not successfully prosecuted a journalist under this law.