Botswana TV crew arrested in Zimbabwe

New York, May 3, 2006—Two journalists from Botswana’s state broadcaster were arrested by Zimbabwean police on April 30, held for two days, and charged with violating Zimbabwe’s draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), Botswana’s director of broadcasting services, Bapasi Mphusu, confirmed today. Botswana Television (BTV) reporter Beauty Mokoba and cameraman Koketso Seofela were accused of practicing journalism in Zimbabwe without accreditation, which carries a potential jail sentence of up to two years under AIPPA.

Mokoba and Seofela were arrested near the Botswana-Zimbabwe border, where they had traveled to report on a recent outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in local livestock and the possible role of cross-border cattle rustling in driving the epidemic, Mphusu told the Committee to Protect Journalists. The disease has caused several neighboring countries to ban imports of Botswana beef, according to international news reports.

Mokoba and Seofela appeared before a judge in the Zimbabwean border town of Plumtree on Tuesday, where they were charged with violating AIPPA and Zimbabwean immigration laws. The journalists were released after paying bail of 4 million Zimbabwean dollars (roughly US$40) each, and they returned to Botswana. They will be tried in Zimbabwe, with a first hearing scheduled for May 23. Both will plead not guilty, Mphusu told CPJ.

Zimbabwean police retained a videotape from the television crew, possibly for use as evidence in the trial, Mphusu said.

“It is obvious that Beauty Mokoba and Koketso Seofela were merely doing their job,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of CPJ. “These baseless charges against our colleagues should be dropped immediately.”