Zimbabwe abruptly ends charges against New York Times journalist

NAIROBI, Kenya – In a surprising twist, Zimbabwean prosecutors abruptly ended their case against a Zimbabwean journalist working for the...

NAIROBI, Kenya – In a surprising twist, Zimbabwean prosecutors abruptly ended their case against a Zimbabwean journalist working for the New York Times on Monday, raising hopes for a speedy resolution to a case widely seen as an assault on freedom of the press in this southern African country. .

Prosecutors were due to call several witnesses this week to testify against Jeffrey Moyo, a journalist accused of providing false press credentials to two Times reporters who entered Zimbabwe last May. If convicted, Mr. Moyo faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine.

But after a single witness testified in Bulawayo court on Monday, describing a chaotic accreditation system in terms that seriously undermined the case against Mr Moyo, government lawyers said they needed to consult their superiors . Upon their return, they said they would not call any other witnesses, not even the police investigator in charge of the case.

Lawyers for Mr Moyo, who have always maintained that the charges against him were spurious, said they would immediately seek a dismissal.

“We are of the view that the state has not even established a prima facie case against Mr. Moyo at the close of his case,” said Douglas Coltart, one of his attorneys. The judge is expected to rule on the dismissal on March 7.

Mr Moyo, 37, who also works for other international media, was arrested last May and held for three weeks in a lice-infested cell in one of Zimbabwe’s oldest prisons, Bulawayo, before being sentenced. be released on bail.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group, said it expected his ordeal to be over soon.

“The state should never have gone to trial,” said Angela Quintal, the group’s Africa program coordinator. “We hope Jeffrey’s protracted nightmare will finally end and he will be free to continue his journalism without further harassment or intimidation.”

The government’s case against Mr Moyo appeared weak from the start – even according to the government’s own legal team.

Mr Moyo was accused of illegally obtaining false credentials for two Times journalists, Christina Goldbaum and João Silva, who flew to the southern city of Bulawayo on May 5 last year. They were evicted four days later, and weeks later the police arrested Mr. Moyoaccusing him of violating Zimbabwe’s immigration laws in a case that prosecutors initially described as a “national security issue”.

But not all government officials seemed to agree with this assessment. Mr Moyo was released on bail in June after a government lawyer admitted in writing that the case against him was “on shaky ground”, according to court documents.

Mr. Moyo had secured accreditation for the two Times reporters in the usual way, providing the required documents and receipts, he said. The documentation he obtained was from “the legitimate office handling this particular process,” the filing said.

The trial began last month. But a key witness called by the prosecution on Monday only appeared to further undermine his case.

Academy Chimamora, an official with the Zimbabwe Media Commission, the office that accredits foreign journalists in Zimbabwe, said Mr Moyo followed the correct procedure to obtain papers for Ms Goldbaum and Mr da Silva, that he gave them returned upon arrival. at Bulawayo airport.

Even so, the two Times reporters had not been properly accredited in the news organization’s internal system, he said. Mr da Silva was given the same accreditation number as a British journalist who last visited Zimbabwe during the 2018 elections. Ms Goldbaum’s file cannot be found.

Mr. Chimamora was unable to explain the discrepancy.

Press freedom in Zimbabwe has come under attack under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to groups that monitor freedom of expression. Freelance journalists were detained and harassed, and they struggled to obtain official accreditation, said Ms. Quintal of the project’s Journalists Committee.

It was ‘not surprising’ that the prosecution against Mr Moyo ended early on Monday, she said, as ‘prosecutors were unable to prove that a crime had ever been committed’ .

Prosecutors have filed a separate case against a Zimbabwe Media Commission official, Thabang Manhika, who is accused of providing the documents that Mr Moyo later gave to Ms Goldbaum and Mr Silva.

That case, which was supposed to start last month, also appears to have stalled.

Lawyers for Mr Manhika argued that the case should not proceed because the prosecution had failed to specify the offenses he faced. A decision on whether to continue the trial is expected later this week.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Zimbabwe abruptly ends charges against New York Times journalist
Zimbabwe abruptly ends charges against New York Times journalist
Newsrust - US Top News
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