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Two South Africans released on bail, plead not guilty at trial on spurious charges of misrepresenting themselves as accredited journalists

(MISA/IFEX) - The trial of Sipho Moses Maseko and Abdulla Ismail Gaibee, the two South Africans who were arrested in Harare on March 27, 2008 and charged for allegedly violating the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), as well as the Electoral Act, began before Harare Magistrate Doris Shomwe on 10 April 2008.

Meanwhile, Johannesburg-based "New York Times" correspondent Barry Bearak and South Africa- based freelance journalist Stephan Bevan (who is of British origin), who were arrested in a police raid at their lodge on 3 April 2008, appeared before Harare Magistrate Gloria Takundwa on 10 April for an application for refusal of remand.

However, the court spent the day hearing arguments as to why police did not comply with a directive from the Attorney General's Office to release the two on 3 April. (The two were only released on 7 April.) The case will proceed on 11 April, with the state expected to call two other police officers to the stand. The two are also scheduled to appear in court on the same day on a separate charge of obstructing or defeating the course of justice.

Maseko and Gaibee pleaded not guilty to contravening Section 78 (2) of AIPPA alternatively Section 6(5) of the Electoral Laws Amendment Act. Section 78(2) of AIPPA considers it to be an offence for one to hold himself or herself as an accredited journalist without being so accredited. Section 6(5) of the Electoral Laws Amendment Act refers to observation of elections without accreditation. In this way, the monitoring of press activities is effectively established.

On 10 April the defence, led by Beatrice Mtetwa, applied for discharge arguing that the state had failed to make any prima facie case against the two South Africans.

Mtetwa argued that historically, Section 79(1) of AIPPA defined practicing journalism without accreditation as an offence, but after recent amendments to the AIPPA, one should only be prosecuted at the recommendation of a statutory media council, which has not yet been established.

Furthermore, Mtetwa argued that none of the state witnesses had seen the two presenting themselves as journalists. She brought to the court's attention the state outline which referred to the two as engineers and thus not in need of accreditation.

On the charge of contravening the Electoral Act, Mtetwa argued that the two, who arrived in Harare on 27 March and were arrested the same evening, could not possibly have observed the elections, which were held when they were in custody on 29 March.

Magistrate Shomwe is expected to rule on this application on 14 April.

BACKGROUND:
Maseko and Gaibee were arrested on 27 March, but were released by a Harare Magistrate on 4 April. They were, however, immediately re-arrested by detectives from the notorious Law and Order Section of Harare Central Police. They were only released on bail by another Harare Magistrate on 7 April.

The state vehemently denied that it was holding them in custody for contravening the AIPPA Act. Instead, the state attempted to remedy the illegal action it took by re-arresting and detaining the two and issuing them with summons to appear in court on 7 April. Despite the summons, the accused persons were only brought to court after noon.

Updates the Maseko and Gaibee cases: http://www.ifex.org/20fr/content/view/full/92125/

For further information on the Bearak and Bevan case, see: http://www.ifex.org/20fr/content/view/full/92405/

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