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Zimbabwe Journalists Released - 2001-08-16

Four newspaper journalists working for Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper who were arrested on Wednesday are back at work after a high court judge ordered their release.

Geoff Nyarota, the editor of the Daily News, and three staff members were freed late Wednesday night after judge Michael Gillespie said that the offence they were accused of no longer exists.

They were charged with publishing false information or rumors following an article, which said police vehicles had been used to loot white-owned commercial farms in the northern Zimbabwe town of Chinhoyi. It is not clear if the four will face new charges.

The judge said the section of the Law and Order Maintenance Act under which they were charged had been struck down by Zimbabwe's Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.

Lawyers say the Supreme Court ruled that the offense was unconstitutional in 1999. That was when two reporters for an independent Sunday newspaper were prosecuted over an article saying there had been a possible military coup. The two were detained and tortured by military police before being brought to court.

Witnesses said the situation in Chinhoyi was calm Wednesday. Police began to patrol farm areas that have been raided for a week by supporters of President Robert Mugabe. At least 40 homes have been ransacked and looted. More than 100 farm families have fled from areas both north and south of the capital.