Zimbabwe court clears South Africans technicians of all charges

Other News Materials 14 April 2008 17:22 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - A court in Zimbabwe on Monday cleared two South African employees of a satellite broadcasting company who were arrested last month on charges of working without accreditation during elections of all charges.

Magistrate Dorris Shongwe said the state had failed to prove that Sipho Moses Maseko and Abdulla Ismail Gaibee of GlobeCast Africa had a case to answer, describing state evidence against them as "manifestly unreliable"

"Some of the witnesses contradicted themselves and some were not even there when the alleged offence was committed," the judge said.

The state accused Maseko and Gaibee of working as journalists without accreditation for sending a live signal to CNN on March 27 of an interview with Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu.

CNN was one of the many Western media outlets that was refused permission to cover the elections and was using GlobeCast to receive images from and conduct interviews with people inside Zimbabwe.

"Merely focusing a camera on a person is not tantamount to holding yourself up as a journalist," the judge said.

The judge also dismissed charges against the duo of allegedly acting as election observers and trying to defeat the course of justice.

"Journalists are not observers and in any case, these are engineers," said Shongwe. The count of defeating the course of justice was a "mere allegation which had no reasonable suspicion."

The latter count arose when a magistrate ordered their release after state prosecutors failed to show up for court hearings in the case. The state then accused Maseko and Gaibee of influencing the magistrate.

Meanwhile, New York Times reporter Barry Bearak and Stephen Bevan, a British freelance journalist, who are also facing charges of working without accreditation, will know on 16 April whether they have a case to answer.

Their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, is pleading to have the charges against the two men, who have been released on bail, dropped.