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Three foreign media workers convicted of possessing "illegal" broadcasting equipment, await sentencing

(MISA/IFEX) - Three alleged Sky News television personnel who were arrested on 23 May 2008 at a police roadblock in Mbalabala in Zimbabwe and found in possession of "illegal" broadcasting equipment with Sky News television logos, were convicted on 30 May by Matabeleland provincial magistrate John Masimba.

Bernet Hasani Sono, 34, Resemate Boy Chauke, 46, and Simon Maodi, alias Musimani, 38, who are being jointly charged with Craig Markram Edy, pleaded guilty to the charge. The accused are being charged under Section 33 of the Post and Telecommunications Act.

Masimba indicated that, although their sentences were ready, he was unable to hand down a ruling because of several legal issues he has to look into before passing sentence.

One of the issues relates to an application by Walter Bongani Dube, of the Attorney General's Office, for forfeiture of the motor vehicle and the broadcasting equipment that was recovered following the arrest.

Dube said that since the three had indicated that the vehicle did not belong to them and that the equipment recovered in the motor vehicle was not theirs, the items could not be returned to them.

"The equipment has Sky News logos and up to now no one has come forward to claim ownership. No one knows how the equipment was brought into the country and there is a possibility that it might be used to commit an offence if it is not forfeited. It is the State's submission that the forfeiture of the car and equipment would not have any effect on the trio," submitted Dube.

In response, the media workers' lawyer, Tawengwa Hara, pointed out that the car belonged to Sono's employers and that he had been hired to come and collect the broadcasting equipment.

"The State has conceded that the equipment was not used to commit a crime in the country. There are no conclusive investigations that show that the equipment was illegally brought into the country and as such there is no need for an order for forfeiture," said Hara quoting a number of decided cases.

Sono and Musimani were also convicted of contravening a section of the Immigration Act. According to Zimbabwean prosecutors, Sono and Musimani entered Zimbabwe at 6:00 a.m. (local time) on 23 May through the Beitbridge border post without valid travelling documents and failed to present themselves to the immigration authorities

In mitigation, Hara pleaded with the court to exercise lenience with his clients, saying their offence should only attract a monetary penalty.

Masimba granted Edy Z$40 billion (approx. US$66) bail with strict reporting conditions. However, the prosecutor objected, and is launching an appeal while Edy remains in custody.

The other three spent the weekend in jail awaiting sentencing on 2 June.

On 30 May, Sky News's Johannesburg bureau chief Dan Williams said the men were not Sky News staff. "We are investigating the matter," he said, declining further comment.

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