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Zimbabwe Court Grants Bail to 3 Journalists Accused of Defaming Mugabe - 2004-01-12

A Zimbabwe court has released on bail three journalists arrested Saturday for publishing an article the police allege criminally defamed President Robert Mugabe.

The three who were in custody since Saturday were released, each on less than $5 bail, at the widely used unofficial parallel market rate.

Editor of the Zimbabwe Independent weekly newspaper, Iden Wetherell, news editor Vincent Kahiya and reporter Dumisani Muleya were arrested for the publication of an article that said President Mugabe, who is on annual vacation in the Far East, had requisitioned an Air Zimbabwe plane for part of his trip.

The privately-owned weekly wrote that the president's use of the plane had disrupted the national airline's schedule and inconvenienced many passengers.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo described the story as criminally false and warned that its authors and editor will be held to account for what he called their lawless and fictitious claims.

This is one many arrests of journalists under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act enacted in 2002. The law has been widely criticized by journalists and human rights organizations as violating the freedom of expression. The state has lost every one of the cases.

That's why, explains defense lawyer, Linda Cook, the state, while arresting the journalists under the Privacy Act, charged them with a criminal offense.

A defiant Iden Wetherell said his paper would not be intimidated by the arrests. "This treatment by the regime will not silence us; newspapers have a duty to subject leaders to public scrutiny: they use public funds, and if newspapers do not do that who will?"

The three journalists will appear in court to answer charges of criminal defamation on January 21.