/ 24 September 2004

Journalists arrested in Zim police raid

Three staffers at our sister publication, the Zimbabwe Independent, were arrested at their Harare offices on Thursday morning by two police officers from the criminal investigation department.

General manager Raphael Khumalo, editor Vincent Kahiya and journalist Augustine Mukaro have been charged under Section 80 of the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which stipulates that it is an offence to publish falsehoods.

Two months ago Mukaro wrote a story about the treason trial of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The story was published on July 30.

He quoted Justice Department sources as claiming that the two high court assessors — who assist judges to adjudicate at trials —had blocked the Judge President Paddington Garwe from passing judgement until they had had a chance to review the trial transcripts.

The lawyer for the three, Linda Cook, said the charges emanated from the Attorney General’s office. She said it was curious that the police had claimed to have been working on the matter for a long time, but only chose to arrest the editor and reporter a day before the paper hits the streets.

Cook said the charges do not disclose any offence. “Not only that, there is also no prospect of the charges being sustained. It is alleged that it was incorrect to say that the judgement was postponed to give the assessors access to the transcripts of the trial. But even the Registrar of the High Court had confirmed in an official statement that this was okay.”

It was not clear by late Thursday afternoon whether the three would be detained overnight or when they would appear in court.

“We are not surprised by this kind of action,” said M&G Media and Zimbabwe Independent CE Trevor Ncube.

“We expect more of these kinds of repressive tactics as we move towards the parliamentary elections [next year].

“These are well-known tactics by the government to close democratic space. We’re bracing ourselves for more of the same until after the elections.”

The charges stem from a July 30 report saying that the verdict in the treason trial of Morgan Tsvangirai had been delayed because two assessors in the trial needed to review a transcript of the year-long hearing.

The two assessors take part along with the judge in deliberations to reach a verdict.

Judgement in the trial of Tsvangirai — who could face the death sentence if convicted — was postponed indefinitely on July 29 and a new date of October 15 was set this week to deliver the verdict.

Tsvangirai is accused of conspiring to murder President Robert Mugabe, his main rival in the 2002 presidential election, and arrange a military coup ahead of the poll.

The opposition leader denies the charges, which he said were fabricated to discredit him ahead of the election.

If convicted, Tsvangirai could face death by hanging.