British journalists’ trial
British journalists Julian Simmons and
Toby Harnden, arrested in Zimbabwe for covering the elections without government
NORTON - Zimbabwean government prosecutors
are pushing ahead with a criminal trial of two journalists from the London-based
Sunday Telegraph on accreditation charges that could condemn the pair to two
years in prison.
Toby Harnden, the newspaper’s chief foreign
correspondent, and photographer Julian Simmonds who have been jailed since their
arrest on March 31 at a polling station in Norton, appeared in court there on
Harnden and Simmonds have been charged with working without
accreditation under Zimbabwe’s draconian media law, the Access to Information
and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which requires all journalists in
Zimbabwe to register with the government-controlled Media and Information
The court was due to hear evidence from an immigration
official who stamped their passports at Victoria Falls airport. Their lawyer
Beatrice Mtetwa in a telephone interview from Harare told The Zimbabwean that
the code stamped in the journalists’ passports was not clear to anyone who is
not an immigration official. “They had applied for 14 days and believed they had
been granted 14 days,” she said.
During the hearing last week, an
immigration official conceded that the coding could be confusing to a lay
George Charamba, Zimbabwe’s secretary for information and
publicity, told the state-run Herald newspaper last week that the two
journalists would be deported. But the trial went ahead and prosecutors invoked
their authority to override a magistrate’s decision granting bail to the
journalists, Mtetwa said. Commentators believe the government wants to score a
point and get the pair convicted before deporting them.
state media in Zimbabwe, hundreds of foreign journalists were accredited to
cover the elections. However, dozens were also refused accreditation and accused
of political bias, including all journalists from the BBC and from the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
The arrest has been condemned
by human rights bodies.
Meanwhile the Committee for the Protection of
Journalists (CPJ) has condemned the April 1 arrest and deportation of a
correspondent for Sweden’s public broadcaster, Sveriges Television (STV).
Fredrik Sperling, who is based in South Africa, was arrested in central Harare
and deported, despite having been accredited to cover the
Sperling told CPJ that he was brought to a police station
outside Harare on March 30, after filming a large farm expropriated several
years ago by the Zimbabwean government and now occupied by a relative of
President Robert Mugabe. Initially released, Sperling said, he was later
arrested and deported by signed order of MIC Chairman Tafataona Mahoso.
The editors-in-chief of two STV news programs sent a letter protesting
Sperling’s deportation to Zimbabwe’s ambassador in Sweden. Sperling is also
appealing the government’s decision to brand him a “prohibited immigrant,” which
bars his re-entry into Zimbabwe.