Zimbabwean court acquits South African media workers

New York, April 14, 2008—Two South African satellite engineers, held in Zimbabwe on several charges, including violating the country’s draconian media accreditation laws, were acquitted today, according to news reports and local sources. New York Times reporter Barry Bearak and a British national accused of working as a journalist are due to appear in court on Wednesday in a similar case. 

“We welcome the acquittal of our colleagues Sipho Moses Maseko and Abdulla Ismail Gaibbe,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call upon the Zimbabwean authorities to drop all charges against journalists.”

Freelance cameraman Sipho Moses Maseko and satellite technician Abdulla Ismail Gaibbe of GlobeCast Africa, a subsidiary of satellite service provider GlobeCast, were expected to board a flight out of Harare at 7:30 p.m. local time, Abdulhak Gardee, director of finance of the South Africa-based company, told CPJ.

The two men recovered their passports this afternoon, after Harare Magistrate Dorris Shomwe dismissed three government charges, including practicing journalism without accreditation—a criminal offense until late last year under Zimbabwe’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa.

The Zimbabwean government used its journalist accreditation law to prevent many major international media outlets and some local journalists from covering the country’s March 29 elections. Very few Western media outlets received accreditation, CPJ reported. A government spokesman told the pro-government daily The Sunday Mail at the timethat it had received about 300 accreditation requests.

Maseko and Gaibee were held in police custody for eight consecutive days after their arrest on March 27 following their facilitation of an interview of Zimbabwean Information and Publicity Minister Sikhanyiso Ndhluvo with the U.S. broadcaster Cable News Network. They were acquitted but re-arrested the same day, and were finally released on bail after spending three more nights in prison. Maseko, a diabetic requiring insulin, and Gaibee, who contracted bronchitis while in police custody, were in good health after receiving medical treatment, according to Gardee.

Police confiscated a GlobeCast camera and a white Mercedes Sprinter satellite uplink truck, according to Gardee. Defense lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told CPJ the company would file an application with Zimbabwe’s High Court for the release of the equipment.

Click here for a detailed history on Zimbabwe’s repression of foreign journalists since 2000.