Zimbabwean journalist acquitted in important test case

New York, August 31, 2005—A magistrate in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, acquitted a journalist today on criminal charges of working without accreditation for the now-banned Daily News, according to his lawyer. Observers say the ruling in favor of Kelvin Jakachira could set an important precedent for several other former Daily News journalists facing the same charge.

Jakachira was accused of working for the 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.

Magistrate Prisca Chigumba ruled today that Jakachira had applied for accreditation in accordance with the AIPPA but received no response from the government. Chigumba ruled that Jakachira was entitled to work while awaiting the outcome of his application.

At least eight other former Daily News journalists are facing similar charges in cases that could be heard this fall. Jakachira’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said the ruling could benefit the other defendants. “All these journalists’ applications were sent together,” she said. “And we expect the evidence to be more or less the same.”

AIPPA makes it a criminal offense for media outlets and individual journalists to work without accreditation from the MIC. The charge of working without a license carries a prison sentence of up to two years, but no journalist has yet been convicted under the repressive law.

“We welcome this important court decision,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “The government should withdraw these spurious charges against all of the former Daily News journalists, repeal AIPPA and allow the Daily News to reopen.”

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.