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Zimbabwe4 April 2008

Two foreign journalists held in Harare for working without accreditation

Reporters Without Borders calls for the release of two journalists working for international news media who have been held since a police raid yesterday on a Harare hotel being used by the foreign press.

“Coming amid heightened tension resulting from the delays in announcing the results of the 29 March general elections, this serious incident is reviving fears that President Robert Mugabe’s supporters and the security forces could use force to hold on to power,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“The African observers monitoring the elections process should request the release of the detained reporters,” the press freedom organisation added. “Those who want to maintain calm in Zimbabwe should understand that this kind of raid now belongs to the past and that journalists who were just doing their job should not be in detention.”

At around 2 p.m. yesterday, a Zimbabwean police unit raided the York Lodge, a Harare hotel being used by several foreign reporters covering the elections. Five journalists were arrested. Three of them were later released, but two are still being held at Harare police headquarters. One of them is New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak.

Their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said they would be charged to day with working without accreditation in violation of a 2002 press law known as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, under which journalists can be sentenced to up to two years in prison for working without a permit from Media and Information Commission (MIC).

The police also raided the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) yesterday. According to official results, the MDC has won a majority in the parliament. But the electoral commission had not yet announced the results of the other elections, including the presidential election, fueling concern that Mugabe and his party may refuse to release their hold on power.

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