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Two Journalists On trial In Zimbabwe For Publishing "False Report" - 2002-07-22

Two journalists from Zimbabwe's only privately-owned newspaper have gone on trial in Harare on charges they violated the country's tough new media laws. The trial was adjourned after lawyers for the two journalists asked that the case be referred to Zimbabwe's supreme court.

The editor of the Daily News newspaper, Geoff Nyarota, and one of his reporters, Lloyd Mudiwa, are charged with publishing a false report, a violation of Zimbabwe's strict new media laws.

The report said supporters of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe beheaded a woman in front of her children.

A man claiming to be the dead womanÄ…s husband had gone to the Daily News and in great detail recounted his story, which turned out to be false. The newspaper immediately retracted the story and published a prominent apology.

The man who told the story to the newspaper has since disappeared.

Lawyers for the two journalists say the section of the media law under which they are charged violate both their right to free speech and the law. They asked for the case to be put to a higher court, which can decide constitutional matters.

The lower court magistrate said she will rule on that request on Wednesday.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of Zimbabwe has already filed a constitutional challenge to the media laws, and is awaiting a trial date.

Last week, the Zimbabwe correspondent for the British Guardian newspaper was acquitted of publishing a falsehood in connection with the same beheaded woman report. The correspondent, American citizen Andrew Meldrum, also successfully delayed his deportation from Zimbabwe which was ordered just minutes after his acquittal.

The Daily News is Zimbabwe's only privately-owned daily newspaper. It began publishing three years ago and in a short period overtook the circulation of state-controlled papers.

Last year, a bomb destroyed its printing press, but no one has been charged in the case. The paper's reporters have been arrested many times and several have been beaten by police. Its editor, Geoff Nyarota, has been arrested and charged a half-dozen times in the past two years.

The government says the Daily News supports the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and police and many government officials refuse to respond to questions from journalists working for the newspaper.