Foreign journalists on trial in Zimbabwe

New York, April 11, 2008—Two South African media workers had their second day in court today in Zimbabwe facing charges of “obstructing the course of justice,” local journalists and the Media Institute of Southern Africa told CPJ. The trial for New York Times reporter Barry Bearak and a British national accused of practicing journalism without accreditation will be held on Monday.

“The charges against all four men are obviously spurious and are merely an attempt by the authorities to prevent any reporting on the turmoil in Zimbabwe from reaching the outside world,” said CPJ’s executive director Joel Simon. “These charges should be dropped immediately.”

Freelance cameraman Sipho Moses Maseko and satellite technician Abdulla Ismail Gaibbe were working for the South African satellite company GlobeCast when police arrested them for contravening Zimbabwean accreditation laws on March 27.

According to defense lawyer Wilbert Mandinde, the magistrate dropped the charges last week after the state prosecutor failed to appear three times in a row. Within hours of their release, Chief Inspector Rangwani re-arrested the two men but they received bail after spending a weekend in jail. Harare Magistrate Doris Shomwe will issue a ruling in their cases on April 14.

The acting attorney general, Bharat Tateo, had similarly recommended that charges against Bearak be dropped, the director of the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights told CPJ.

Zimbabwe’s restrictive journalist accreditation law, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, has been used repeatedly to block foreign and local journalists working for foreign media outlets from covering the elections, CPJ reported on March 27. Only a handful of foreign journalists received accreditation despite 300 accreditation requests, according to the pro-government daily The Sunday Mail.

Tension is rising in Zimbabwe, as police announced a ban on all political rallies taking effect today while the opposition is calling for a general strike to protest the lack of results from the presidential election. A general strike by the opposition is expected to take place on Tuesday, according to international news reports. Click here for a detailed history on Zimbabwe’s repression of foreign journalists since 2000.