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US Journalist Pleads Not Guilty in Zimbabwe Media Case - 2002-06-12

The first journalist to go on trial in Zimbabwe under a new media law has pleaded not guilty to publishing a false report. An American correspondent for the Guardian newspaper in Britain, was arrested in April and charged under Zimbabwe's Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The trial of Andrew Meldrum is seen as a test case for press freedom in Zimbabwe. Eleven journalists have been charged under the new media laws.

Mr. Meldrum is being tried on charges he published a false story alleging that President Mugabe's supporters beheaded a woman in front of her two young children.

The unverified report was first published in Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News. Both the Daily News and the Guardian immediately published retractions and apologized for the incorrect report.

In court, the first government witness testified that the woman had not been murdered but had died from HIV/AIDS. More government witnesses are expected to testify when the trial resumes on Thursday.

Mr. Meldrum's legal team told the magistrate they would be giving evidence about political violence committed by Mr. Mugabe's supporters in the past two years.

Mr. Meldrum, who came to Zimbabwe after independence in 1980, said he feels calm and that freedom of the press is on trial. He said Zimbabwe's government is seeking to turn journalists who admit they have made a factual error into criminals.

The Daily News reporter who has been charged, Lloyd Mudiwa goes on trial next week. The newspaper's editor, Geoff Nyarota, has yet to be given a date for his trial.

If found guilty, Mr. Meldrum and the others could face up to two years in jail.