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Zimbabwe3 March 2009

Woman journalist freed after being held for three months

Reporters Without Borders hails yesterday’s release of journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko and urges the authorities to free freelance photographer Shadreck Manyere, who is still being held.

“Mukoko was unjustly held for three months in very disturbing conditions,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We are extremely relieved to know that she is free at last, but her ordeal will not be fully over until the authorities drop the charges against her. Her release, just a few weeks after the formation of a national unity government with the opposition, will hopefully be the starting point of a new government attitude of respect for free expression.”

Mukoko was freed on payment of 600 US dollars (476 euros) in bail and her passport was returned to her. “It is good to be free but being detained was an ordeal and I must look after my health,” she said, adding that she would talk to the media later.

Her lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said: “It is good she has been released, but she is still restricted. She has to report to the police and the charges against her are still in place although she knows she did nothing.”

A former presenter for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and then the privately-owned Voice of The People, Mukoko now heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a human rights organisation. She was kidnapped from her home in Norton (40 km west of Harare) on 3 December by some 15 men in plain clothes. Initially held incommunicado, she was brought before a judge for the first time on 24 December.

Placed in solitary confinement in Chikurubi high-security prison, Mukoko was mistreated and tortured and denied the medicine she takes. Security agents allegedly punched her and hit her repeatedly with sharp instruments, including on the soles of her feet, and made her kneel naked on gravel.

Charged with hatching a “terrorist plot” against President Robert Mugabe, Mukoko was alleged to have recruited volunteers to receive military training in Botswana with a view to overthrowing the government.

Kidnapped by government agents on 13 December, Manyere was brought before a Harare court on 7 January on charges of banditry, sabotage and terrorism, for which he faces a prison sentence ranging from 20 years to life. The authorities accuse him of involvement in the bombings of the Criminal Investigations Department headquarters in Harare and Manyame bridge in Norton on 17 November and the bombing of Harare central police station on 20 November.

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Reporters Without Borders makes three recommendations in open letter to Morgan Tsvangirai
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