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Zimbabwe Court Convicts NY Times Freelancer of Flouting Country’s Immigration Laws 


Beatrice Mtetwa, one of Jeffrey Moyo’s lawyers, said they were very optimistic of a successful appeal because the judgment was not based on the evidence led by state prosecutors. Photo taken in Dec. 2021 in Harare. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

A court in Zimbabwe has found a New York Times freelance journalist guilty of flouting immigration laws and sentenced him to a suspended two-year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine.

A court in the city of Bulawayo convicted and sentenced 37-year-old Jeffrey Moyo to two years in prison, suspended for a fine of about $1,000, at the official rate. Beatrice Mtetwa, one of Moyo’s lawyers, spoke to VOA from Bulawayo, via WhatsApp.

“Naturally, we are disappointed with the conviction," Mtetwa said. "We do not believe it is justifiable with the evidence that was made, and naturally will be appealing. We do not believe that the highest fine (about $1,000), was justifiable. We believe we will be very successful on appeal because the judgment was not based on the evidence led (by state prosecutors). There is a lot of surmise and conjecture in the judgment, so we will be appealing against the conviction and sentence.”

Moyo’s lawyers believed the case might have been dismissed after the same court earlier this year acquitted Zimbabwe Media Commission official Thabang Manhika for allegedly processing fake accreditations for two South Africa-based New York Times journalists who entered Zimbabwe and were later deported. Moyo and Manhika were tried separately.

Media watchdogs say Zimbabwean journalists may not be treated fairly with 2023 elections around the corner. Photo taken May, 2022. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
Media watchdogs say Zimbabwean journalists may not be treated fairly with 2023 elections around the corner. Photo taken May, 2022. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Angela Quintal is the Africa program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. She called Moyo’s conviction “a traverse of justice.”

“It shows yet again that in Zimbabwe, press freedom and the public’s right to know are practically nonexistent," Quintal said. "The fact that Jeff was handed down a fine and was not sent to jail does not make this any less a mockery of justice. Jeffrey should not have been prosecuted in the first place. And to convict him on such flimsy grounds is disgraceful. It is clearly a shot across the bow by authorities ahead of the election.

“We hope that this unjust conviction will be overturned on appeal and that Jeff can continue reporting freely and that journalists in Zimbabwe will not be silenced through self-censorship, because they fear that they, too, will share the same fate, with next year’s election on the horizon.”

The Zimbabwean government did not respond Tuesday when contacted about the case but earlier told VOA that both Moyo and Manhika broke immigration laws — nothing to do with press freedom.

Moses Matenga of the Media Institute of Southern Africa says the conviction of Jeffrey Moyo confirms that Zimbabwean journalists will not be treated fairly as the country prepares for the 2023 general election. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
Moses Matenga of the Media Institute of Southern Africa says the conviction of Jeffrey Moyo confirms that Zimbabwean journalists will not be treated fairly as the country prepares for the 2023 general election. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Moses Matenga of the Media Institute of Southern Africa says the conviction of Moyo confirms that Zimbabwean journalists will not be treated fairly as the country prepares for the 2023 general election.

“This is a very sad day for journalism in Zimbabwe," Matenga said. "It serves as an indicator that more doom is bound to come for the media in Zimbabwe. The media is under siege. This serves as a strong warning from authorities to journalists that we can arrest you, convict you, sentence you, all in the name of silencing the media in Zimbabwe. But we will remain undeterred. We will remain alert to tell the real Zimbabwean story.”

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over in 2017 from the late Robert Mugabe, he promised to improve the media landscape in Zimbabwe. But media watchdogs say nothing much has changed.

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