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British Journalist Detained in Zimbabwe Put on Trial

  • Peta Thornycroft

A prison officer, left, escorts Julian Simmonds, right, and Toby Harnden, handcuffed together, while waiting to appear in court in Norton
Two British journalists accused of breaking Zimbabwe's media and immigration laws have been put on trial.

Chief correspondent Toby Harnden and photographer Julian Simmonds who work for a British weekly, The Sunday Telegraph, have gone on trial in a small town 40 kilometers north of Harare. They were arrested last Thursday as millions of Zimbabweans went to the polls to cast their vote in an election which delivered a massive victory for President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF.

State prosecutor Albert Masama told the court that the journalists had come to Zimbabwe to cover the election. "The accused persons had no right to cover the elections because they had no accreditation and had no right to stay in the country beyond March 28," he said.

The prosecutor said the two flew into Harare and met unnamed members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

The lawyer defending the journalists, Beatrice Mtetwa, said the men had valid visas and believed they were in Zimbabwe legally when they were arrested. She said the two were tourists and visited such resorts as the Victoria Falls.

The more serious charge is that the two men broke the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which requires all journalists working in Zimbabwe to obtain accreditation by the state media commission.

According to prosecution, Mr. Simmonds was arrested after he was seen taking photographs of a line of voters at a polling station. Both journalists are being held in custody pending trial.

Since the media law has been adopted three years ago, Zimbabwe police have arrested, beaten up and deported dozens of journalists.

More than 200 journalists were accredited to cover last week's elections, but many more had their applications rejected.

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