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Journalist reportedly tortured during detention, forced to confess alleged crimes

(WiPC/IFEX) - WiPC is seriously concerned about "The Zimbabwean" reporter Gift Phiri, due to stand trial on 25 April 2007 on charges of working as a journalist without official accreditation and "publishing false news". WiPC is concerned about the treatment Phiri received while in police detention earlier this month, particularly allegations of torture. It fears that the charges against Phiri are politically motivated and in direct contravention of his right to freedom of expression. WiPC is calling for a full investigation into the torture allegations and for the charges against Phiri to be dropped.

Phiri, chief reporter of the independent UK-based newspaper "The Zimbabwean", was arrested in Harare on 1 April. He was briefly detained at Sunningdale Police Post before being transferred to Harare Central Police Station. Following his arrest, police reportedly went to Phiri's home where they confiscated his computer and some business cards.

Phiri was detained for four days, in violation of his right under Zimbabwean law to be brought before a competent court within 48 hours of his arrest. He was initially accused of being involved in recent bombings against police stations in Harare, then of "publishing falsehoods" in connection with a series of recent articles on state activities, including repression of opposition supporters. During his detention Phiri was severely beaten and is believed to have been tortured. Access to Phiri by his lawyers and by doctors was restricted.

Following intervention by his lawyers, Phiri was brought before a judge on 5 April and charged with working as a journalist without official accreditation and publishing false news under sections 79 (1) and 80 (1) (b) of Zimbabwe's draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. According to his lawyer, Phiri had been forced to sign a confession to this effect. Phiri was released on bail of 100,000 Zimbabwean dollars (approx. US$400) and a trial date was set for 25 April. The judge ordered the state to investigate allegations that the police had tortured Phiri and report on this at the next hearing.

On his release Phiri was immediately hospitalised to receive treatment for injuries sustained during his detention. According to "The Zimbabwean", he had been severely beaten on his buttocks and on the soles of his feet and one finger had been broken. Phiri remained in hospital for five days. "The Zimbabwean" reports that he is still in pain and suffering nightmares and has been recommended to attend torture counselling.

Phiri's arrest and detention came two days after a death threat was made against him and Wilf Mbanga, editor of "The Zimbabwean" and founder of the banned independent newspaper "The Daily News". On 30 March, "The Zimbabwean"'s office in the UK was sent a copy of a letter dated 22 March, purportedly from the President's Office to the Zimbabwe Intelligence Corps (ZIC), listing 27 individuals targeted for execution by the ZIC and the "Zanu PF Security hit squad". The "death list" included Phiri and Mbanga, whose names were circled. The newspaper doubts the authenticity of the letter but sees it as a clear attempt to intimidate journalists and activists.

Phiri's case forms part of a wave of repression against journalists, opposition leaders and human rights activists in Zimbabwe that has included numerous arrests, abductions, beatings, torture and killings. A few of the attacks against journalists since February 2007 include: the abduction and murder of former Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) cameraman Edward Chikombo; criminal charges against ZBC journalist Andrew Neshamba which could lead to a prison term of up to 15 years; and threats of government reprisal against Jan Raath and Peta Thornycroft, foreign correspondents for "The Times" and the "Daily Telegraph", respectively. For more information on these and other attacks, see http://www.ifex.org/fr/content/view/full/77/

RECOMMENDED ACTION:

Send appeals to the Zimbabwean authorities:

- asking that an independent investigation is conducted into allegations that Phiri was assaulted and tortured by police officers and forced to sign a confession, and to ensure the culprits are identified and brought to justice
- asking them to drop charges against Phiri, which WiPC fears are politically motivated and contravene his right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Zimbabwe has acceded
- asking that the trial, if it goes ahead on 25 April, meets international human rights standards for a fair and public hearing
- asking that they ake measure to curb attacks against journalists freely exercising their right to freedom of expression in Zimbabwe

APPEALS TO:

His Excellency President Robert G Mugabe
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Box 7700, Causeway
Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: +263 4 734 644
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Information and Publicity
The Hon Sikhanyiso Ndlovu
Office of the President
Munhumutapa Building
Samora Machel Avenue/ 3rd Street
Box 7700, Causeway
Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: +263 4 734 644
Salutation: Dear Minister

Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri
Zimbabwe Republic Police
Police Headquarters
PO Box 8807, Causeway
Harare, Zimbabwe
Fax: +263 4 253 212
Salutation: Dear Commissioner

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Zimbabwe in your country, and to WiPC if possible.

Please send appeals as soon as possible. Check with WiPC if sending appeals after 10 May.

International PEN, the worldwide association of writers with 144 Centres in 101 countries, exists to promote friendship and intellectual co-operation among writers everywhere, to fight for freedom of expression and represent the conscience of world literature. International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) works on behalf of persecuted writers worldwide and monitors the cases of writers who have been imprisoned, tortured, threatened, attacked and killed for the peaceful practice of their professions. WiPC campaigns to end these attacks and oppose suppression of freedom of expression wherever it occurs.

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