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Journalist acquitted
August 30, 2007

Journalist Gift Phiri was on 30 August 2007 acquitted of contravening a section of the repressive Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).

In his brief ruling, Magistrate Stanley Chimedza stated that the section under which Phiri was charged did not create the alleged offence but that the offence would have been created under another section of AIPPA.

Phiri, whose trial opened on 27 August 2007 was facing charges of contravening Section 79 (1) of AIPPA which relates to practicing journalism without accreditation. He was acquitted after the defence applied for his discharge at the close of the state case.

Phiri's lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa made the application after the arresting officer, Sergeant Tapera Ranjisi, had given his evidence. The state had indicated that it would not be calling further witnesses after Chimedza's evidence.

Ranjisi had earlier told the court that they had received information that Phiri was practicing journalism without accreditation. He told the court that Phiri was arrested at his home in Harare's suburb of Sunningdale before he was handed over to Ranjisi's Police Law and Order Section. Ranjisi said he was instructed by the officer- in- charge of Harare's Law and Order Section, detective inspector Mavunda, to search Phiri's home where he recovered two copies of The Zimbabwean newspaper.

Under cross-examination by Mtetwa, Ranjisi conceded that they searched Phiri's home without a search warrant. He denied participating in Phiri's torture. He, however, admitted that the police had not conducted any investigations following reports that Phiri had been tortured while in custody as ordered by the court on 5 April 2007.

He was allegedly severely assaulted by the police while in custody following his arrest in Harare on 1 April 2007.

Through Ranjisi, prosecutor Editor Mavuto produced as exhibits two copies of the Zimbabwean newspaper dated 16-22 November 2006 and 4-11 December 2006.

In the application, Mtetwa argued that the court had failed to prove that Phiri had in fact practiced journalism as envisaged by Section 78 of AIPPA which she argued is an integral part of the charge. Section 79 (1) reads, "No journalist shall exercise the rights provided in section seventy-eight in Zimbabwe without being accredited by the Commision". Section 78 relates to the rights of journalists in terms of AIPPA.

She further argued that while Phiri was being charged for having practiced journalism without accreditation since August 2006, the Media and Information Commission (MIC) Research, Monitoring and Investigations Officer Academy Chinamora, had confirmed that Phiri was actually accredited for the year 2006. Mtetwa dismissed the production of the two copies of The Zimbabwean newspaper as irrelevant since Phiri was in fact accredited during the material time.

Mtetwa further argued that even though Phiri had written for The Zimbabwean, he had done so as a social commentator as is the case with the MIC Chairperson Tafataona Mahoso who writes for the Sunday Mail and Nathaniel Manheru who writes in The Herald of every Saturday.

"We concede that we did not establish any prima facie case," was all the prosecutor could say in response to the application.

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