/ 18 January 2009

Photographer accuses Grace Mugabe of assault

A British photographer said on Sunday he had been beaten up and punched repeatedly by the wife of Zimbabwe's Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe.

A British photographer said on Sunday he had been beaten up and punched repeatedly by the wife of Zimbabwe’s Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe as he was trying to snap photos of her in Hong Kong.

Grace Mugabe (43) flew into a rage when she saw photographer Richard Jones waiting outside as she left the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel with a female friend and a bodyguard in the southern Chinese city on Thursday.

Jones was about 6m away from Mugabe when she told her bodyguard to attack him, said Michael Sheridan, the Sunday Times correspondent who joined the photographer seconds after the assault.

”The bodyguard grabbed Mr Jones, wrestled with him, attempted to take his camera. He then held him while Mrs Mugabe struck him in the face repeatedly,” Sheridan said.

”She was completely deranged, absolutely raging with anger,” Jones, chief photographer of Hong Kong-based Sinopix photo agency, said.

Jones said he went to see a doctor afterwards and was diagnosed as suffering from numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions to his head and face.

”The cuts and bruises allegedly caused by the First Lady … were due to the diamond rings on her fingers,” he said.

Three or four large bodyguards appeared from the hotel and tried to approach Jones following the assault. But they were stopped by security officers at Tsim Sha Tsui Centre near the hotel, Sheridan said.

Police were later called to the scene and took a statement from Jones.

Sheridan said he understood that the police would study CCTV footage taken by the Centre, which is believed to have captured the entire assault.

He said they had planned to cover Mugabe’s stay in Hong Kong to show the ”obvious contrast between her extravagant lifestyle and the plight of people in Zimbabwe”.

Sheridan said he had approached Mugabe in the hotel lobby shortly before the assault took place.

”I asked whether she’s enjoying her stay. She looked stunned to be approached by a British journalist. Her lady friend denied she’s Mrs Mugabe.”

The Sunday Times said Mugabe’s trip to Hong Kong was part of a Far East holiday with her family. She had been in Singapore with her husband before flying to Hong Kong on January 9, the report said.

Nearly half the population of Zimbabwe is dependent on food aid and a cholera epidemic has claimed more than 2,000 lives. — AFP