Judge denies bail to photographer who claimed abuse

New York, January 16, 2009The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the health of a Zimbabwean photojournalist who was denied bail today despite allegations that he was tortured while in police detention in the capital Harare. 

High Court Judge Tedious Karwi today urged the government to grant Anderson Shadreck Manyere, a freelancer, and seven others, including former journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, access to adequate medical treatment, according to the Media Institute of Southern Africa. Manyere and Mukoko did not have any visible injuries but complained of pain from being beaten in police custody, according to defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama who visited them in Harare’s maximum security Chikurubi Prison today. The prison hospital does not have adequate facilities to conduct a full medical examination, he said. 

Manyere faces charges of “banditry,” a capital offense under Zimbabwe’s criminal code, in connection with a spate of unsolved explosions at police stations in Harare. Police claimed they found 47 rounds of 9mm ammunition at Manyere’s home, but his lawyer denied the claim. Muchadehama said officers searched Manyere’s residence in the presence of his wife, and carted away a laptop computer, disks, and videocassettes, but no rounds of ammunition. Police failed to produce the rounds or charge Manyere with illegal possession of ammunition, he said.

“We are alarmed by these reports of the physical abuse in detention of Anderson Shadreck Manyere,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ Africa program coordinator. “At the very least, Manyere should be released on bail immediately to receive medical attention. As long as he remains in a prison his health is a major cause of concern.”

Manyere went missing on December 13 in Norton, 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of Harare, turning up in court on December 24, when he was charged along with Mukoko. Judge Karwi called security agents’ seizure of Manyere “disturbing, shocking, and totally unnecessary,” the Media Institute said. But the judge refused to grant bail because of the gravity of the offense and what he said was the possibility that the journalist would interfere with witnesses or police, according to Muchadehama.

Muchadehama described the judge’s arguments as “legally untenable,” saying they were out of step with legal precedent. Manyere was expected to return to court on January 23, according to the Media Institute.

Journalists were relentlessly harassed during Zimbabwe’s presidential elections in May and June 2008, CPJ found in its report “Bad to Worse in Zimbabwe.”