British journalists on trial in Zimbabwe

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Correspondent Toby Harnden and photographer Julian Simmonds of The Sunday Telegraph weekly, were put on trial for violating Zimbabwe's "Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act". The act requires all journalists in Zimbabwe to obtain accreditation from the state media commission. The two are also accused of breaking immigration laws by overstaying their visas.

The journalists were arrested last Thursday during the election that saw victory for President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF. The trial is being held in a small town 40 kilometers north of Harare, capital of Zimbabwe. Despite being granted bail, the pair are spending a fifth night behind bars in Harare. Although they face two years in jail, it is believed they will instead be fined and deported.

"The accused persons had no right to cover the elections because they had no accreditation and had no right to stay in the country beyond March 28," State prosecutor Albert Masama said in court statements.

The prosecutor said the two flew into Harare and met unnamed members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Simmonds was arrested after he was seen taking photographs of a line of voters at a polling station.

Defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, said the men had valid visas and believed they were in Zimbabwe legally when they were arrested. She said the two were tourists and visited such resorts as the Victoria Falls.

More than 200 journalists were accredited to cover last week's elections, but many more had their applications rejected.