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MDC's information director arrested, charged; student journalist fined before release; MISA condemns discriminatory treatment of detained journalist

(MISA/IFEX) - Freelance journalist and registered media student of the University of Witwatersrand, Stanley Karombo, was arrested on 18 April 2008 at Gwanzura stadium in Harare's suburb of Highfield while taking notes during Zimbabwe's 28th independence celebrations.

At the time of his arrest, the police contemplated charging Karombo for contravening the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA). However, the charge could not be sustained and was changed to that of "conduct likely to cause public disorder".

Karombo, who spent three nights in police custody at the Harare central police station's law and order section, was later forced to pay a Z$14 million (approx. US$470) "admission of guilt" fine.

Karombo was released on 21 April.

In a separate development, on 21 April freelance journalist Frank Chikowore was finally charged with public violence, appearing in court almost a week after his arrest together with six other accused persons, among them the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party's director of information and publicity, Luke Tamborinyoka.

Chikowore was remanded in custody until 22 April, when Magistrate Olivia Mariga was expected to make a decision on whether to grant the accused bail. The allegations of public violence relate to the torching in Harare's suburb of Warren Park of a long-distance bus that was travelling from Botswana on 15 April between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. (local time).

According to his lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, engaged by MISA-Zimbabwe under its Media Defence Fund facility, the police initially wanted to charge Chikowore with contravening the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) by practicing journalism without accreditation.

However, Chikowore is duly accredited with the state-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) and was similarly accredited by the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) to cover the elections held on 29 March.

Nkomo said the police had also contemplated charging him with malicious injury to property as well as attempted murder before settling for the charge of public violence.

According to the "Herald" newspaper of Zimbabwe, the public (or political) violence charge encompassed "suspected MDC (opposition party) activists who were arrested on various allegations including setting ablaze a Mandaza Bus Service coach last week, barricading roads, stoning vehicles and circulating inciting messages".

Chikowore was on freelance work reporting the elections when he was picked up with various other people.

The "Herald" reported on 22 April that "according to official police records, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Law and Order Section has dealt with 33 cases of violence, most of them stemming from the failed stay-away called for by MDC-T last week."

So far, some people had appeared in court with one of the cases having already been finalised. Eleven people had since paid "admission of guilt" fines while 13 were still under investigation.

MISA strongly condemns the selective treatment being handed out to Chikowore. It is clear that people on similar charges have been released on bail or on payment of a fine. The MISA lawyers are in the process of preparing an urgent bail application for the journalist to be delivered 23 April. MISA maintains that the present charges brought against the journalist are ones for which a detainee should be released on bail pending trial, and that Chikowore should be dealt with according to the provisions of the law.

According to his wife, Chikowore left their home in Harare's suburb of Warren Park early in the morning on 15 April on his way to work only to return later in the company of seven police officers, four of whom were in riot gear and three in plainclothes. The police then reportedly searched the house and confiscated a laptop, recorder and camera.

New case (Tamborinyoka) and update to the Chikowore and Karombo cases:

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