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Zimbabwe Government Continues Harassing Journalist Despite Court Ruling on Media Law - 2003-05-08

Zimbabwe's Supreme Court has struck down a clause in the country's restrictive media law that made it a criminal offense to publish falsehoods. But while that decision was praised by defenders of press freedom in Zimbabwe, hours after it was issued government officials visited the home of an American journalist who has for months been the target of a harassment campaign led by state media.

Four men who said they were from the department of immigration arrived at Andrew Meldrum's home late Wednesday, but he was not there. The men told his wife they wished to interview him and eventually left saying they would return with reinforcements.

Mr. Meldrum is an American citizen with permanent resident status in Zimbabwe, which under the country's constitution guarantees him the same rights as a citizen. Based in Harare, he is a correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer for the American journalist, says immigration officials refused to reveal why they want to see the journalist.

In an account in The Guardian, the lawyer says from her experience it appeared that immigration officials intended to deport Mr. Meldrum. When they come in the night, she is quoted as saying, they want to lock you up and they can take you away when no one can see it being done.

Earlier this year, Mr. Meldrum was served with a deportation order minutes after the lower court acquitted him of violating Zimbabwe's media law by publishing a falsehood.

But the high court suspended Mr. Meldrum's deportation, and that suspension, according to his lawyers, is still in force.

Mr. Meldrum's acquittal caused official embarrassment, as he was the first journalist to be tried and then acquitted for publishing a falsehood - the section of the media law that the court struck down Wednesday.

The government tried Mr. Meldrum for a report he did for the Guardian in which he quoted a local newspaper as saying that a woman had been beheaded in front of her children by ruling party supporters. The local newspaper story was false and the Guardian published a retraction.

Since his acquittal, Mr. Meldrum, like may other journalists, has not been granted accreditation by the government appointed media commission. He is regularly accused by the state media of being a spy.

The whereabouts of Mr. Meldrum and his wife are not known. His lawyer said they are both safe but anxious.