New York, April 23, 2008—A prosecutor dropped two-year-old charges against freelance journalist Sydney Saize in restive Zimbabwe on Tuesday, while a magistrate denied bail to freelancer Frank Chikowore, who has been detained for more than a week. The Committee to Protect Journalists today called for Chikowore’s immediate release.
Mutare prosecutor Malvern Musarurwa declined to pursue charges against Saize, who was accused of false reporting and violating the journalist accreditation law, according to local journalists and the Media Institute of Southern Africa. Police arrested Saize on January 16, 2006, and detained him for three nights. The arrest followed Saize’s radio report that a militia affiliated with the ruling ZANU-PF assaulted two teachers at Gomorefu Secondary School. By leaving charges open for two years, local journalists told CPJ, authorities hoped to intimidate Saize and deter him from filing further reports.
Police arrested Chikowore and 42 others on charges of “public violence” during an April 15 strike organized by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to demand the release of election results.
In Harare today, defense lawyer Harrison Nkomo filed an urgent motion with the High Court seeking bail for Chikowore. Magistrate Olivia Mariga denied bail to Chikowore and about two dozen others on Tuesday, claiming the defendants might incite further violence. The public violence charge relates to the torching of a bus during the April 15 strike in the Harare suburb of Warren Park.
Nkomo said his client was covering the strike and had no involvement in the matter. Local journalists said Chikowore arrived at the site of the strike at least five hours after the bus had been set on fire.
Nkomo said he has also sought hospital care for his client, who reported chest and abdominal pains, but that motion has thus far been ignored. A newly married father, Chikomo sleeps in a crowded cell with no blankets at Hare Central Police station, local journalists told CPJ.
“Journalists, both foreign and domestic, have been under unbearable pressure as authorities persecute the press for doing its job,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Frank Chikowore should be released immediately and the legal harassment must stop”
In a separate development, freelance journalist Stanley Karombo was arrested April 18 while covering an Independence Day celebration at Gwanzura Stadium. Karombo, charged with “conduct likely to cause public disorder,” spent three nights in police custody at Harare Central Police Station, local journalists told CPJ. Karombo was free after paying a fine of 14 million Zimbabwean dollars (US$470), the Media Institute of Southern Africa reported.