Zimbabwe: Journalist released but restrictions continue

English PEN welcomes the 2 May release of freelance journalist and internet writer Frank Chikowore (28), after more than two weeks in detention. However, the charges of ‘public violence’ against him stand and there are concerns that he will not receive a fair trial. English PEN is also concerned about continuing attacks on the print media following the contested March 2008 elections. It calls on the authorities either to back up or drop the charges against Chikowore, and to cease attacks against print journalists’ peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Frank Chikowore, journalist for publications including the private weekly The Standard, also runs a popular blog covering the 2008 elections. He was arrested on 15 April 2008 while covering a strike organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to demand the release of the 29 March election results. Initially held incommunicado, Chikowore was not charged for six days, in violation of Zimbabwean law which states that this should occur within 48 hours of arrest. On 21 April he was finally charged with ‘public violence’, in relation to the burning of a bus on the morning of 15 April. These charges came after the police had made and rejected a number of other accusations, including reporting without accreditation, arson and attempted murder.

Originally denied bail on the grounds that the political climate was still too volatile, Chikowore was finally released on 2 May, following payment of Z$5 billion (reportedly approx. US$167,000 as of 2 June 2008) bail. The judge ruled that the state had yet to establish a prima facie case against him due to the police’s failure to produce the necessary evidence. However, the charges of public violence still stand and Chikowore has been ordered to report to the police twice a week pending his trial.

There are concerns that the charges against Chikowore may have been fabricated, and the delays in charging him and granting him bail suggest that he may not receive a fair trial.

The contested March 2008 elections have prompted a new spate of attacks on the press in Zimbabwe. For example:



  • Freelancer Stanley Karombo, who was held incommunicado for three days in April following his coverage of celebrations for the 28th anniversary of Zimbabwe’s independence (see here), was reportedly hospitalised as a result of beatings sustained in police detention. Karombo, who was charged with ‘conduct likely to cause public disorder’ and released on payment of a fine, was said to be suffering from nightmares and problems with his eyesight.



  • Davison Maruziva, editor of the popular independent Sunday newspaper The Standard, was arrested, detained overnight and put on trial for publishing a 20 April opinion piece by MDC breakaway faction leader, Arthur Mutambara, which was critical of the Mugabe regime.



  • The post-election period has also seen the initiation of legal proceedings against three other print journalists and the conviction of one other, even though their reporting was ostensibly unrelated to the elections themselves. On 24 April Blessed Mhlanga (f), James Muonwa and Wycliff Nyarota, all journalists for the weekly Network Guardian, based in Kwekwe, central Zimbabwe, were put on trial for a 26 March story on a couple who were allegedly caught having sex in a vehicle parked at a shopping centre in Kwekwe. On 29 April, after a 13-month trial, Bright Chibvuri, editor of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) magazine The Worker, was convicted of practising journalism without accreditation and ordered to pay a fine of Z$2 billion (reportedly approx. US$6 as of 2 June 2008) or serve 10 days in prison. An appeal was lodged with the High Court on 15 May on the basis that Chibvuri was in fact duly accredited in 2007, including on the date of his arrest.

Please send appeals:



  • Welcoming the release on bail of freelance journalist and internet writer Frank Chikowore after more than two weeks’ detention;


  • Expressing concern nevertheless about the delays in charging Chikowore and granting him bail, and calling on the authorities either to back up the charges of ‘public violence’ – which some reports suggest are trumped-up – and to ensure that Chikowore receives a fair trial; or to drop the charges; 


  • Protesting the wave of post-election attacks against other print journalists, in apparent violation of their right to freedom of expression enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe is party.
     

Addresses

President

His Excellency President Robert G Mugabe
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building, Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street, Box 7700
Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: 263 4 734 644
Salutation: Your Excellency

Commissioner-General of Police

Augustine Chihuri

Zimbabwe Republic Police

Police Headquarters, PO Box 8807, Causeway, Harare, Zimbabwe

Fax: 263 4 253 212

Salutation: Dear Commissioner-General

Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression in Africa

Commissioner Faith Pansy Tlakula

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
48 Kairaba Avenue, P. O. Box 673, Banjul, The Gambia
Fax: 220 439076

Email: achpr@achpr.org   

Copies to:

His Excellency Mr Gabriel Mharadze Machinga

Embassy of the Republic of Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe House

429 The Strand

WC2R 0JR

***Please send appeals as soon as possible. Check with English PEN if sending appeals after 1 July 2008.***

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/zimbabwejournalistreleasedbutrestrictionscontinue/

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