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Security officials defy High Court order allowing journalists to cover summit

(MISA/IFEX) - Security details and secretariat personnel at the ongoing Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Heads of State and Government summit in Victoria Falls barred four freelance journalists from covering the event despite a High Court order granting them permission to do so without producing accreditation cards issued by the defunct Media and Information Commission (MIC).

The four journalists, Stanley Gama, Valentine Maponga, Stanley Kwenda and Jealous Mawarire, arrived in the resort town on 7 June 2009 to cover the event but were turned away by security at the summit venue. Security officers insisted that the journalists, despite the production of the High Court order, could not cover the event as they were not on the Ministry of Media, Information and Publicity's list of journalists accredited to cover the summit.

On 5 June 2009, High Court judge Justice Bharat Patel granted Gama, Maponga, Kwenda and Mawarire an interim order barring Media, Information and Publicity Minister Webster Shamu, his permanent secretary George Charamba, MIC chairman Dr Tafataona Mahoso and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai from interfering with the operations of the four journalists in their work.

"The applicants be and are hereby allowed upon being registered with the COMESA Summit secretariat to cover the COMESA Heads of State and Government Summit without producing accreditation cards from the Media and Information Commission," said Justice Patel. He ruled that the MIC or any persons purporting to act on its behalf were prohibited from carrying out any duties related to accreditation or any issues regarding the practice of journalism.

The judge said the order stood notwithstanding the noting of an appeal by the respondents.

The four journalists were represented by prominent media lawyer Selby Hwacha, who argued that the MIC had been disbanded after the promulgation of Act No. 20 on 11 January 2008, which amended the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), creating the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) to replace MIC. The ZMC was later consolidated by constitutional Amendment 19 which made it a constitutional body.

Hwacha further argued that the effect of Act No. 20 was to remove the obligation compelling journalists to be accredited, such that they could actually practice journalism without accreditation although they would not be able to enjoy journalistic privileges as set out in section 79 of AIPPA.

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