A Harare court today acquitted New York Times correspondent Barry Bearak and British freelance journalist Stephen Bevan of working without press accreditation, their lawyer said. Two South African TV technicians who had been arrested on similar charges, Sipho Maseko and Abdulla Gaibee, were acquitted on 14 April.
9.04.2008 - Arrests and threats against foreign journalists denounced as “anti-democratic”
Reporters Without Borders today criticised the government’s rough treatment of foreign journalists covering the country’s disputed elections and deplored the South Africa deputy foreign minister’s accusation that the foreign media were to blame for Zimbabwe’s political instability.
"The backers of President Robert Mugabe are venting their frustration by arresting and hounding those they wrongly see as enemies of the country,” it said. “We do not understand why a South African government minister is supporting them when they are openly flouting the democratic principles South Africa supposedly incarnates. ‘Silent diplomacy’ must not amount to automatic support.”
American reporter Barry Bearak, of The New York Times, and a British journalist, who have been held in Harare prison since 3 April, were freed yesterday on bail of 300 million Zimbabwe dollars (US$10,000 at the official rate, US$69 on the black market), according to their lawyer, Harrison Nkomo. He said Bearak, 58, was taken to a clinic to treat “back injuries suffered in a fall,” while the British journalist was ordered to stay at the British High Commission (embassy).
They were arrested in a 3 April police raid on the surburban York Lodge hotel, where several foreign journalists were staying while covering the 29 March elections, and charged with not having proper accreditation. The attorney-general dismissed the charges but police refused to free them and the journalists’ lawyers filed an urgent appeal on 5 April.
Two South African technicians of the firm Globecast, Sipho Maseko and Abdulla Gaibee, who were installing satellite equipment to transmit TV images, were also freed yesterday after 10 days in prison charged with “working as journalists without permission.” Maseko, a diabetic, was hospitalised while in jail. Both were freed on bail of 200 million Zibabwean dollars each.
Two journalists from the privately-owned South African station Radio 702, Jean-Jacques Cornish and Sheldon Morais, were arrested on 4 April as they tried to enter the country at the Beit Bridge frontier post and their passports seized. They were interrogated for over three hours and then sent back to South Africa.
South Africa’s deputy foreign minister, Aziz Pahad, told the diplomatic corps in a speech on 4 April that foreign media and the international community were “orchestrating” the destablisation of Zimbabwe and had unfairly accused Mugabe of wanting to “steal” the elections by delaying announcement of the results. He said the simultaneous holding of a presidential and parliamentary vote had simply brought logistical problems.