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Zimbabwe Court Delays Journalist's Deportation - 2002-07-16

A court in Zimbabwe has granted American journalist Andrew Meldrum a stay of his deportation order until Wednesday. Mr. Meldrum was acquitted on Monday under Zimbabwe's new media laws, but he was immediately served with notice to leave Zimbabwe in 24 hours.

Mr. Meldrum is the long-standing Zimbabwe correspondent for the British newspaper, The Guardian.

He appeared in court Tuesday to appeal the loss of his permanent residence status and the deportation order.

The court said it did not have the time to prepare itself for the case, and postponed the hearing until Wednesday. But it assured Mr. Meldrum he would not be arrested or harassed in the meantime. If his appeal is unsuccessful, he has three hours to get out of Zimbabwe or face arrest.

Information minister Jonathan Moyo, without giving specific details, has accused Mr. Meldrum of breaking the conditions of his residence permit.

It would be unusual for a Zimbabwe court to reverse a decision taken by the immigration department, which has deported many journalists since independence from Britain in 1980.

Mr. Meldrum's troubles began in April, after he reported that government supporters beheaded a woman in front of her children. The report first appeared in a local newspaper, The Daily News. The information was wrong, and Mr. Meldrum retracted his report.

Despite his apology, he was arrested and charged under media laws that became effective a few days after President Robert Mugabe's controversial election victory in March.

In acquitting Mr. Meldrum on Monday, the trial judge said he was not the source of the information and had tried to verify the information. Lawyers say his acquittal will be a useful precedent for a dozen more journalists charged under the same laws.

Mr. Meldrum has lived in Zimbabwe since its independence, and has had permanent residence status for five years.