Reporters Without Borders voiced relief at the acquittal today of British journalists Toby Harden and Julian Simmonds of the London-based Sunday Telegraph, who had been accused of breaking Zimbabwe’s press law. Judge Never Diza said the authorities failed to produce evidence of their guilt.
"We are deeply relieved that Toby Harden and Julian Simmonds have finally been freed after two weeks under arrest and a revolting show trial," the organization said. "It is obvious the Zimbabwean government wanted to make an example of them. The case is now closed but this depressing episode joins the long list of press freedom violations which clearly has not yet reached its end."
The two journalists were arrested on 31 March, on the day of legislative elections, and were accused of violating a press law under which journalists who work without being accredited with the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) can be sentenced to imprisonment.
07 April 2005 - "Southern Africa’s honour publicly stained" : Open letter to the executive secretary of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC)
Dr. Prega Ramsamy / Executive Secretary / Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) / Gaborone, Botswana
Paris, 7 April 2005
Dear Dr. Ramsamy,
Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organization, would like to draw your attention to the government of Zimbabwe’s disgraceful treatment of British journalists Toby Harden and Julian Simmonds of the London-based Sunday Telegraph, who have been detained for the past week in Norton, 40 km from the capital, Harare.
They were arrested on 31 March, the day of legislative elections. Since then they have often been exhibited by the Zimbabwean authorities for a predictable trial. They are accused of breaking the immigration laws by not having valid visas, and of violating the sadly notorious Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), the tyrannical nature of which we have condemned since it was adopted in 2002.
We hesitate to discuss the substance of the charges as the legal procedures alone have been so shocking. Two men whose only crime, in essence, was to go a little too close to a polling station with a camera risk being unjustly sentenced to several years in prison. The Zimbabwean authorities clearly want to set an example for all those inclined to criticize them or at least to look a little more closely at the catastrophic situation of a country that has taken a nationalistic, paranoid and repressive course. We are moreover outraged by the way Harden and Simmonds have been exhibited handcuffed to each other and in prison uniform, treated as criminals and accused by prosecution witnesses who are ruling party activists.
Were they in Zimbabwe as tourists or to work as journalists? It does not really matter, in our view. Two men have been thrown in prison for asking voters questions and taking photos of what was happening around them. That apparently constitutes a crime in Zimbabwe, especially if one has not been approved by the thought tribunal known as the Media and Information Commission (MIC) and if one "blasphemes" against President Robert Mugabe.
Leaving aside our clearly negative assessment of the climate in which this election took place and our disgust at the way Zimbabwe treats independent and foreign journalists, we would like to ask you to intervene on behalf of Harden and Simmonds. We urge you as executive secretary of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to do everything in your power to persuade Zimbabwe to let them return home as free men as soon as possible. Southern Africa’s honour is being publicly stained at this moment in a prison in Norton.
I thank you in advance for attending to this request.
Robert Ménard, Secretary-General