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Court releases two foreign journalists re-arrested for reporting without accreditation, drops charges

(MISA/IFEX) - Two foreign journalists who were re-arrested after their 7 April 2008 release on bail over charges of contravening the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) were released by Harare Magistrate Gloria Takundwa on 16 April.

Johannesburg-based "New York Times" correspondent Barry Bearak and South-African based freelance journalist Stephan Bevan (who is of British origin) were facing charges of contravening Section 78(2) of AIPPA, which criminalizes practicing journalism without accreditation. The charges have now been dropped.

In her judgment, the magistrate stated that the continued detention of the pair had not only gone against the Attorney General's order that the two should be released but had also been unlawful, because at the time of the detention no warrant of arrest had been produced.

The pair's application for refusal of remand was successful, as the state had failed "dismally" to prove that the two had indeed committed the crime, but had only relied on inconsistent and unreliable evidence.

The magistrate stated that presently, the state was "lingering in limbo as to which section they should charge the two".

In passing the judgment, the magistrate noted that the state had failed to produce documents to be used as exhibits in court, but went on to rely on "nameless and faceless people" which the pair is alleged to have interviewed.

Bearak and Bevan were arrested in a police raid at a lodge in Harare on 3 April. The two were charged separately for practicing journalism without accreditation in violation of Section 78 (2) of Zimbabwe's repressive AIPPA. Both were released on Z$300 million (approx. US$9,974) bail after surviving five days in police cells. They were ordered to surrender their passports to the clerk of court and not to interfere with state witnesses.

Updates the Bearak and Bevan case:

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