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Politics | Human rights | Media

Zim treason charges for viewing Egypt on TV

Army patrol in Harare, Zimbabwe

© Sokwanele/afrol News
afrol News, 4 March
- Zimbabwe is charging 45 persons with treason for having viewed TV reports about North African and Middle East protests.

The Robert Mugabe government on 19 February ordered the arrest of 46 activists attending a meeting organised by the International Socialist Organisation at which footage of the Egypt protests were shown and discussed. These 46 now have been charged with treason.

"They were watching DVD news clips of the protests in Tunisia and Egypt," Roselyn Hanzi of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said. "It was nothing different to what many other Zimbabweans watched also," she told the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

Instead, the 46 accused - lawyers, students, and trade unionists - have been accused of plotting to overthrow the Mugabe regime through mass uprisings, she said. The number of accused has since dropped to 45 following the release of one unidentified person who turned state witness.

The trial is expected to continue on Monday, when the prosecution will present written submissions in response to the defence application to have all charges dismissed, Hanzi added.

Even coverage of the tense, high-profile trial has proven risky for Zimbabwean journalists. On 25 February, the magistrate overseeing the trial had freelance reporter Lucy Yasini arrested in the courtroom after her cell phone went off during the proceedings, according to local journalists. She was cautioned and released after an hour of detention, reports CPJ's Shehnilla Mohamed.

Zimbabwe has already some of the most restrictive media and security laws in the world, including the deceptively named Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which criminalises the practice of journalism without accreditation, and the Public Order and Security Act, which has landed a number of photojournalists in jail for filming public buildings or covering court cases.

"Despite the restrictions, Zimbabweans are reverting to satellite television and social media for information amid fears that the secret police has been infiltrating social media networks," according to Ms Mohamed.

Today, for instance, foreign-based Zimbabwean news websites are reporting the country's first "Facebook arrest," although officially unconfirmed, according to international media, the reports describe the arrest of a resident of Bulawayo-based Facebook user named Vikas Mavhudzi for allegedly posting a comment on the page of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai about Egypt.

Earlier this week, some alleged Zimbabwean activists apparently attempted to use Facebook to organize what they referred to as the Zimbabwe Million Citizen March. However, the march did not take place as people were sceptical of the authenticity of the call.

"It is very possible that it was state security intervention to see who would participate and use this as an excuse to arrest people," Titus Gwemende, director of Transparency International Zimbabwe told CPJ.

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