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Zimbabwe/Journalist - 2002-03-29


The lawyer for journalist Peta Thornycroft is seeking an urgent bail hearing to try and obtain her release from jail in Mutare, Zimbabwe. However, his task is made more difficult because Zimbabwe is observing a four-day weekend to mark Easter.

The 57-year-old reporter's lawyer, Tapiwanashe Kujingu, told her employer, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, that she will no longer be charged under Zimbabwe's public order and security law, which carries sentences of up to five years.

Instead, she is being charged with failing to license her South African-registered vehicle in Zimbabwe, for which she could be liable for a fine. Ms. Thornycroft also faces charges for failing to seek a license to work as a reporter under a media law that went into effect last month.

Lawyer Kujingu told the Daily Telegraph that, under terms of the law, Ms Thornycroft is allowed three months to apply for the license, and that the charges are, in his words, "patently ludicrous." Ms. Thornycroft faces a possible two-year jail sentence if convicted for this charge.

Ms. Thornycroft, who also works for the Voice of America, has told the Daily Telegraph's David Blair that she is being well-treated. Mr. Blair says she is very cheerful. Her lawyer and friends are now being allowed free access to her, and she is permitted to leave her single cell after seven o'clock in the morning to spend time in police offices. Her friends have been permitted to bring her food and blankets, even though she is compelled to sleep on the floor.

Ms. Thornycroft was arrested in the small Zimbabwe town of Chimanimani on Wednesday, while waiting at a restaurant to interview a prominent local official of the ruling ZANU-P-F party. She was investigating reports of escalating reprisal attacks in the area against opposition supporters and election monitors.

On Thursday, police transferred Ms. Thornycroft to the regional capital, Mutare. The Daily Telegraph reports that, because police had no vehicles of their own, they commandeered Ms. Thornycroft's vehicle, as well as space in her lawyer's car for the journey.

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