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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 19:04 GMT 20:04 UK
Zimbabwe court frees journalists
Andrew Meldrum (left), Lloyd Mudiwa (centre) and Collin Chiwanza
The reporters were detained earlier this week
Three journalists charged with violating Zimbabwe's new media law by reporting false information have been released by a court in Harare.

The court ordered police to free Lloyd Mudiwa and Collin Chiwanza - both reporters with the independent Daily News - and Andrew Meldrum, a US national writing for Britain's Guardian newspaper.

President Robert Mugabe
Mugabe signed a new media law in March
The three were accused of breaching the law by reporting last week that a woman had been beheaded - allegedly by supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The hearing was the first court challenge to the new media law, which has been condemned as an effort to stifle criticism of President Robert Mugabe.

'Falsehood'

Mr Mudiwa and Mr Chiwanza were arrested on Tuesday, and Mr Meldrum on Wednesday.

They were charged in connection with an article published by The Daily News on 23 April.

Andrew Meldrum
Meldrum has worked in Zimbabwe since 1980
The paper's lead story said that a 53-year-old woman had been hacked to death and decapitated in front of her two children in the north of the country.

The Daily News has since retracted its story after being unable to find the grave of the victim.

State prosecutor Thabani Mpofu opposed Mr Meldrum's application for unconditional release, saying there were sufficient grounds to suspect he committed an offence.

Mr Mpofu asked the judge to release him on bail so he would be forced to reappear to face charges of "abuse of journalistic privilege by publishing falsehoods."

"The story he wrote is false and that is now an offence," Mr Mpofu said.

'Intimidation'

Mr Mugabe signed into the new curbs on journalists shortly after his controversial re-election in March.

Criticism of the president is now an offence, as is publishing "unauthorised" reports of cabinet meetings.

Bombed Daily News printing press
The Daily News printing press was bombed in 2001
All journalists must register with a state-appointed commission, which has not yet been set up, and foreign correspondents will only be accredited for one-off events.

The Vienna-based International Press Institute had condemned the latest arrests and called for the journalists' release.

"IPI believes that it is yet another attempt by Robert Mugabe's government to restrict the free flow of information through the intimidation and suppression of the media," said IPI head Johann P Fritz.

The editor of the Daily News, Zimbabwe's only privately-owned newspaper, Geoff Nyarota has been arrested several times since the Daily News was launched in 1999.

The paper's printing press and main office were both bombed last year.

See also:

02 May 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe arrests condemned
15 Apr 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe journalist arrested
31 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe releases journalist
15 Mar 02 | Africa
Zimbabwe enacts media curbs
19 Feb 02 | Africa
Journalist urges more pressure
09 Nov 01 | Africa
Zimbabwe editor walks free
01 Feb 02 | Africa
Media rounds on Zimbabwe law
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