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CAMERAMAN SLAIN OVER LEAKED TSVANGIRAI PICTURES

In the recent terror campaign targeting government critics, a local journalist suspected of having links to Zimbabwe's opposition was found murdered on 31 March, report the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI).

Edward Chikombo, a part-time cameraman for Zimbabwe state broadcaster ZBC, was abducted from his home by armed men in the Glenview township outside Harare on 29 March, MISA reports. His body was found two days later near Darwendale, 80 kilometres west of the capital.

According to the London newspaper "The Independent", Chikombo was suspected of having leaked footage to the international press of brutally beaten opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who was arrested at an 11 March protest and tortured while in police custody. The footage of Tsvangirai leaving a Harare courthouse with a suspected fractured skull, and then lying in a hospital bed, provoked a storm of international criticism of President Robert Mugabe's regime.

Journalists for ZBC routinely film news that cannot be used because of heavily censored bulletins, says "The Independent". Some footage is allegedly sold to foreign broadcasters - Mugabe has banned both the BBC and CNN from reporting from Zimbabwe and any unaccredited journalist faces a two-year prison sentence. Suspected news smugglers face being intimidated, harassed and fired.

Another local journalist, Gift Phiri, a senior reporter for the London-based weekly "The Zimbabwean", was released on bail on 5 April and taken straight to hospital, resulting from injuries he received during four days in police custody. According to his lawyer, Phiri has difficulty sitting, standing or walking because of the beatings.

Initially accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at police stations, Phiri has been charged with working as a journalist without official accreditation and for "publishing false news." His trial is set for 25 April.

What is more shocking than Zimbabwe's free expression violations is "the grossly inadequate response" of the South African government to the crisis, says FXI, commenting that remaining quiet during a time of such upheaval in Zimbabwe amounts to a "tacit endorsement of censorship that affects the whole region." FXI is calling for a more interlinked, regional campaign, starting with abolishing Zimbabwe's restrictive access to information and public order and safety acts.

Visit these links:
- Alert on Chikombo: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/82258
- RSF on Chikombo: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21603
- RSF on Phiri: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=21536
- FXI statement: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/82309
- "The Independent", "Zimbabwe journalist murdered": http://tinyurl.com/yt6t6d
- "The Zimbabwean" on Phiri: http://tinyurl.com/2btqa6
(10 April 2007)

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