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Trial of privately-owned newspaper, editor and opposition leader postponed, reporting conditions relaxed

(MISA/IFEX) - The joint trial of independent newspaper, "The Standard", its editor Davison Maruziva, and Professor Arthur Mutambara, leader of a faction of opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has been postponed to 10 July 2008. "The Standard" newspaper, Maruziva and Mutambara stand charged under Section 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act following the publication of an opinion piece by Mutambara in the weekly newspaper. The postponement was made on 17 June by the magistrate's court in Harare.

The matter was postponed after Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba said the prosecution was still to provide the defence counsel with state papers and that the prosecutor who is responsible for the case, Tawanda Zvekare, was attending to other commitments in Chiredzi. The charges arise from the publication of an opinion piece written by Professor Mutambara which appeared in "The Standard" on 20 April 2008. The state charges that the article is in contempt of court and undermined the integrity and standing of security forces and President Robert Mugabe. Mutambara criticised, in the article, the delay in the release of the 29 March Presidential election results, the throwing out by the High Court of an application by the MDC to have the results released as well as the involvement of the security agents in the elections.

Lawyers representing the accused argued against the postponement of the case, stating that the State's failure to provide the papers in question would result in their clients' continued remand.

Beatrice Mtetwa, representing Arthur Mutambara, submitted that the state had an obligation to explain to the court why it had not provided the papers in question despite its undertaking to do so. She argued that her client's continued remand infringed on his right to freedom of movement. She said she would be applying to the Constitutional Court for a determination on the matter.

Mtetwa argued that the SADC Guidelines Governing the Conduct of Democratic Elections provide guidelines for freedom of expression and access to information during the election period. Mtetwa pointed out that since Mutambara is a political player he is entitled to make comments without any fear.

Mtetwa requested that the matter be referred to the SADC Tribunal to determine whether Zimbabwe is adhering to the provisions it ratified, arguing that Professor Mutambara's prosecution is a breach of the SADC Electoral Guidelines.

Advocate Deepak Mehta is representing Maruziva. Both Mehta and Mtetwa made applications for the suspension of the reporting conditions against Maruziva and Mutambara, until the next trial date or when the state "puts its house in order."

Prosecutor Nyazamba objected to the application stating that prosecutor Zvekare was not present to authoritatively decide on the merits of the application. Mtetwa objected to the state's submissions saying it was not for the prosecution but the court which had authority to decide on the merit of the application. Mtetwa further stated that Prosecutor Zvekare went to Chiredzi fully aware that he had an obligation not only to the defence counsel but to the state as well to provide the papers in question.

In his ruling, Magistrate Morgan Nemadire stated that Prosecutor Zvakare's conduct was "disagreeable" since there was no prior notice of his absence. He stated that the accused should be given a fair hearing within reasonable time and that there should be no breach of the accused person's fundamental rights. The reporting conditions were suspended.

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