In Zimbabwe, state broadcast journalists face criminal charges

New York, March 27, 2007—Two journalists with Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster have been criminally charged in connection with footage of diamond trafficking in the eastern Manicaland province, according to Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) and news reports.

Andrew Neshamba, Manicaland bureau chief for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), was arrested on February 9 and charged with “criminal abuse of duty as a public officer” and released on bail the same day, defense lawyer Victor Mazengero told CPJ. The charges carry a prison term of up to 15 years and a “level 13” fine, according to CPJ research. Fines vary due to Zimbabwe’s rocketing inflation, but level 13 is the second highest category of fines under Zimbabwean law, according to veteran lawyer Stanford Moyo.

Police allege that Neshamba appeared as translator in video footage produced by Peter Moyo, a journalist with South Africa’s private channel, which depicted unregulated diamond mining in the area, according to local sources. Moyo was later convicted of practicing journalism without accreditation and fined under Zimbabwe’s draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, according to CPJ research.

ZBC cameraman William Gumbo was also charged with abuse of duty, allegedly for assisting Moyo. Gumbo has gone into hiding, according to local journalists. Both ZBC journalists were suspended without pay and stripped of their media accreditation, according to local media reports. Neshamba, who has not entered a plea, is due in court again on May 14, Mazengero said.

“We condemn these criminal charges against Andrew Neshamba and William Gumbo,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “These charges are an obvious attempt by the authorities to prevent coverage of a matter of public interest. They should be dropped.”

Authorities have maintained a heavy police presence in Manicaland after the discovery of diamonds there last summer, according to international news reports and local sources. The government is seeking to regulate the diamond trade.