Press lawyer faces continued harassment

New York, November 17, 2008–Authorities should halt harassment of media and human rights lawyer Harrison Nkomo, CPJ said today. Nkomo is awaiting word on whether he will face criminal charges after a client left Zimbabwe in the midst of a case, said Beatrice Mtetwa, co-founder of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

Nkomo was defending Phillip Taylor, a British national accused of illegally working as a journalist in Zimbabwe.

“Zimbabwe’s security forces are using intimidation tactics against the press and those who defend the media,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “There is no reason for Nkomo to be charged. He should be allowed to continue his work without harassment or the threat of criminal charges.”

Taylor was arrested by members of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) while on a plane that was about to take off at Harare International Airport on October 30. Taylor was accused of working as a journalist in Zimbabwe without accreditation during his 30-day stay in the country. Taylor said he was in Zimbabwe as a visitor. 

Taylor was granted bail of 150,000 Zimbabwean dollars (US$7.75) and ordered to surrender his travel documents, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa. Taylor left the country on November 4, the day before his scheduled court date, according to local news reports. Nkomo informed the court that he had received a message that his client had left the country.

Police officers from the Law and Order section, the department responsible for numerous detentions during the country’s election crisis, later visited Nkomo’s office in Harare searching for the lawyer, local journalists told CPJ. Police said they wanted to charge Nkomo with obstructing justice, the independent weekly The Standard reported.

In May, authorities charged Nkomo with “undermining the authority or insulting the president” in connection with another case. Two days later, a judge ordered the lawyer’s release. Nkomo has defended numerous Zimbabwean journalists, including veteran reporter Frank Chikowore. On April 15, police arrested Chikowore on charges of “inciting public violence” during a strike organized by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Chikowore was on the scene to cover the strike.