afrol News, 13 June - The American journalist Andrew Meldrum (50) risks two years imprisonment for allegedly "publishing a false story" about the situation in Zimbabwe. Meldrum, a correspondent of the British daily 'The Guardian', is the first to be put on trial under the new, draconic Zimbabwean media laws.
Andrew Meldrum - a US citizen and permanent resident of Zimbabwe - has lived and worked in Zimbabwe for 21 years. He was put on trial for publishing falsehoods in Harare yesterday, and his case was then adjourned until tomorrow. If convicted, he could face up to two years in prison or a fine of Zimbabwean dollars (Z$) 100,000 (approximately US$ 1,800).
Meldrum yesterday pleaded not guilty to knowingly publishing false information without verifying facts. The state prosecutor, Thembani Mpofu, said Meldrum had been charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act because he had abused journalistic privilege by publishing falsehoods, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) reported this evening.
The story that led to the prosecution was printed in the 'Guardian' in April. It reported claims in a local Zimbabean newspaper, the 'Daily News', that Brandina Tadyanemhandu, 53, a mother of eight, had been decapitated in front of several of her children by supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party near Karoi, 120 miles north-west of Harare. The story was carried by a number of British papers and international news agencies.
The account was confirmed, at the time, by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). However, doubts have since been raised about the credibility of the woman's husband, and the MDC has admitted to possibly having been tricked.
The only prosecution witness to appear yesterday was Julia Musopero, who the court was told, was the sister of the dead woman. Musopero said Brandina had died of AIDS in Seke several weeks before the 'Daily News' reported her alleged beheading.
She said the dead woman's boyfriend, who identified himself to the 'Daily News' as Enos Tadyanemhandu, was in fact George Nyadzayo. Meldrum's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, told the court the prosecution had not proved that Brandina was the woman referred to in the article, nor that there was any case to answer. The police had not initially responded to inquiries and the main source of the report, the husband, had still not been questioned, Mtetwa said.
The story was consistent with other reports of political violence [from reliable sources]," Mtetwa told the court. Meldrum's story was factually correct in describing what was published in the 'Daily News' said Mtetwa. The lawyer said no action had been taken under the new media laws against state media for repeatedly publishing false information.
Meldrum is the first of 12 journalists arrested under the new laws to face trial, and the case is therefore pivotal for the press in Zimbabwe. The media law has been strongly condemend by the internationally community and Meldrum's trial is condemned by the US government and human rights groups.
He was arrested on 2 May and released the same day on bail, the equivalent of US$ 36. However, a magistrate's court in Zimbabwe ruled on 30 May that Meldrum must be tried on allegations of having written falsehoods. He was subsequently charged under the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act.