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Journalists plead not guilty to charges as trial gets underway

(MISA/IFEX) - The trial of three journalists employed by the weekly "Network Guardian" in the Midlands Zimbabwean town of Kwekwe who are charged with abuse of journalistic privileges in contravention of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) kicked off on 24 April 2008 before Kwekwe Magistrate Oliver Mudzongachiso.

Blessed Mhlanga, James Muonwa and Wycliff Nyarota, who were initially facing charges of contravening the Supreme Court-nullified Section 80 (1) (a) (2) of AIPPA, which used to prohibit the publication of falsehoods, have now pleaded not guilty to contravening Section 80(a) (ii) of AIPPA, which criminalises abuse of journalistic privileges.

The state alleges that on 26 March 2006, the three or one of them, unlawfully, intentionally and recklessly falsified information that is injurious to the reputation, rights and freedoms of others and published a story in the "Network Guardian" stating that George Muvhimi and Tatenda Munhanga were caught with their pants down while having sexual intercourse in a vehicle at Mbizo Shopping Centre in Kwekwe.

The state led evidence from Munhanga who confirmed that she had a relationship with Muvhimi. She, however, denied having been literally caught with her pants down. She said on the night in question, she was indeed with Muvhimi who had later dropped her near her house.

Under cross-examination, she confirmed that Muonwa had phoned to try and verify the story but she had hung up on him. Munhanga also confirmed her friendship with a number of people mentioned in the story as having been phoned to verify the story by Muonwa.

Mhlanga, Muonwa and Nyarota are being represented by Media Lawyers Network member Prayers Chitsa, Kwekwe lawyer James Magodora and MISA-Zimbabwe Legal Officer Wilbert Mandinde.

The trial is expected to continue on 6 May.

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