Reporters 'face jail' in Zimbabwe

Two British journalists arrested for working without accreditation in Zimbabwe are bracing for jail terms of up to two years if found guilty at a trial expected to conclude next week.

Toby Harnden and Julian Simmonds, who were detained during last week’s disputed parliamentary elections, appeared in court on Friday handcuffed together, dressed in prison garb of khaki shorts and shirts.

The defence argues that The Sunday Telegraph journalists, who entered the country on tourist visas, were travelling through the country as tourists.

Some experts say the two may be fined and deported immediately from Zimbabwe, but others warn that the authorities might seek to make an example of them.

“The Mugabe government wants to make an example of them, to warn other foreign correspondents to stay out, and to frighten any Zimbabwe journalists who might be working without accreditation,” said a legal expert in Harare.

The journalists were arrested on March 31 at a polling station in the town of Norton, 40km west of Harare.

In court on Friday state witnesses said one of the accused was taking photographs at a polling station during the elections. But under questioning from defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa the witnesses could not agree where Simmonds was taking photos.

Earlier state witness Max Makowe, an election observer, testified that when he asked Simmonds for his accreditation the photographer admitted the pair were journalists and apologised for working without permits.

Mtetwa argued that the two were travelling through Zimbabwe as tourists. “It is up to the state to prove that they were working as journalists,” she told The Guardian.

In court Mtetwa described their trip to Victoria Falls, Matobo national park and the southern city of Bulawayo as well as a Zimbabwe-Angola football match.
They “kept a travel diary and took pictures as is normal with tourists”.

She said they were in Norton for a lunch break when they stopped at the polling station.

On Friday the state showed Harnden’s notebooks as evidence that he was preparing material for a story on Zimbabwe’s elections.

The state is taking a tough line against the two journalists, refusing them bail and holding them in Harare remand prison, which has a reputation for terrible conditions.

The two journalists told reporters outside the court that they were in decent shape. “It’s been uncomfortable, but we have not been treated badly,” Harnden said.

Government officials say more than 200 journalists were accredited to cover the March 31 elections but many others had their applications rejected. Some entered the country as tourists and worked without licences. - Guardian Unlimited Â