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Zimbabwean Trial of American Journalist Concludes

In Zimbabwe, the trial of a correspondent for Britain's Guardian newspaper has concluded Friday after the judge denied an application to dismiss the charges. Andrew Meldrum, an American citizen, is being charged under controversial new media laws that were enacted days after President Mugabe's election in March.

The judge, Magistrage Godfrey Macheyo, said he would wait until the end of the trial to explain his reasons for refusing to dismiss the charges against Mr. Meldrum.

The only defense witness James Holland explained how the Internet and the worldwide web operate. At issue is a report written by Mr. Meldrum in April that was published on the Guardian's website, which is controlled from London.

The Guardian newspaper is not available for sale in Zimbabwe. The state says Zimbabweans could have read Mr. Meldrum's report by downloading it off the Internet. The defense maintains that the Guardian's web pages are not subject to Zimbabwean jurisdiction.

Mr. Meldrum is accused of writing a false report that a woman was beheaded in front of her children by Mr. Mugabe's supporters. In the report, Mr. Meldrum acknowledged that the information came from a local newspaper, The Daily News.

The Daily News and the Guardian later printed retractions, saying the story turned out to be false. Under Zimbabwe's new media law, it is a crime for journalists to report what it calls false information. A dozen journalists have been charged with publishing falsehoods since the law was passed but Mr. Meldrum is the first one to be tried. Those convicted face a fine or up two years in jail.

The case against Mr. Meldrum is not only important for the future of the press in Zimbabwe, but legal experts say there is no precedent for any country charging a journalist with publishing a false report on the worldwide web.

The judge said he will deliver his verdict on Monday.