28 June 2006

Zimbabwe: Trial Dates for BTV Journalists Set

Harare — The trial of the two Botswana Television (Btv) journalists, Beauty Mokoba and Koketso Seofela, who were arrested in Zimbabwe in April for allegedly violating immigration laws and working in the country without accreditation would be conducted over two days next month.

Originally when they were remanded out of custody by a Plumtree magistrate, they were both told to reappear in court on 26 July. However, Prince Butshe Dube, the prosecutor said the duo would now re-appear in court on July 26 and 27 before Plumtree resident magistrate, Mark Dziba. Dube said police had completed their investigations and that the state is now ready for the trial.

When they appeared in court, Seofela (25) and Mokoba (29) were not formally charged with contravening the Immigration Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. They are out of custody on $4 million (P231) bail each. It is alleged that on 30 April this year, the two scribes entered Zimbabwe illegally as they did not have passports. They allegedly approached veterinary officers at Mphoengs border post carrying cameras seeking information about a Foot and Mouth disease outbreak. A police officer who was patrolling the area got wind of their presence and approached them for questioni ng.

The officer then discovered that the journalists were allegedly not accredited by the state-appointed Media and Information Commission and that they illegally entered the country. Seofela and Mokoba were then arrested and their equipment confiscated. A journalist covering a story in Zimbabwe needs to be registered with the Media and Information Commission and be granted a licence.

Anyone convicted of violating the law is liable to a two-year jail term, a fine or both. Zimbabwe and Eritrea are considered the worst violators of media freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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