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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
UK journalists 'leave Zimbabwe'
Toby Harnden (middle) and Julian Simmonds (right) arrive at court with guard
The men faced two years in prison for reporting illegally
Two British journalists cleared of immigration offences and charges of working illegally have left Zimbabwe for London, their lawyer said.

Sunday Telegraph correspondent Toby Harnden, 37, and photographer Julian Simmonds, 46, were arrested in March.

They were acquitted of the immigration offences a day after being cleared of covering elections without permission.

Outside the court, they were hugged by well-wishers, including their parents, who had flown in from the UK.

Their lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said they had taken a flight to London on Friday afternoon from Harare Airport.

Catalogue of errors

The pair had denied overstaying their visas, saying they believed they had been given the normal 14-day visa instead of the seven-day one that prosecutor Albert Masama said they had been given.

No pictures were produced and the camera was never presented before this court as evidence. The notebook was also produced but no-one was able to read the contents
Magistrate Never Diza
Magistrate Never Diza said the visa stamp in their passports did not have an expiry date and it was hard to read the number of days they had been allowed to stay, which had been written by hand.

"We are very pleased that justice has been done in the court today. We are delighted to be able to leave the country and get back to Britain, see our families and get on with our lives," Mr Harnden said.

They had also pleaded not guilty to covering the elections without accreditation - an offence which could lead to a two-year prison sentence.

Their lawyer maintained the pair were ordinary tourists who "kept a travel diary and took pictures".

The prosecution case fell apart when their camera did not contain any pictures and Zimbabwean officials were unable to read their notes in shorthand.

"No pictures were produced and the camera was never presented before this court as evidence. The notebook was also produced but no-one was able to read the contents," Mr Diza said.

Media laws

On Thursday Mr Diza released the men into the custody of immigration authorities after ruling "all in all, the state failed to provide sufficient evidence to show the accused persons have a case to answer."

Mr Harnden and Mr Simmonds were detained in Norton prison, near Harare, after being denied bail earlier this month.

President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF won a two-thirds majority in the parliamentary polls, which some observers have described as flawed.

According to government officials, more than 200 journalists were accredited to cover the elections but others had their applications rejected.

Zimbabwe has arrested or deported dozens of journalists and denied others entry under media laws adopted by President Robert Mugabe's government three years ago in the face of severe international criticism.

Foreign journalists are banned from working permanently in Zimbabwe and must seek temporary licences for brief assignments.

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