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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Journalists acquitted in Zimbabwe
Toby Harnden (middle) and Julian Simmonds (right) arrive at court with guard
The government previously blocked a court order to bail the men
Two British journalists accused of illegally covering last month's parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe have been acquitted by a court.

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

The magistrate said there was no proof they were working in the country illegally, but they should still face charges of overstaying their visas.

They had pleaded not guilty to covering the elections without accreditation.

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

Media laws

On Thursday, magistrate Never Diza said: "All in all, the state failed to provide sufficient evidence to show the accused persons have a case to answer."

The men have also denied outstaying their visas. They said 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.

If found guilty on those charges, they could be fined.

They were detained in Norton prison, near Harare, after being denied bail earlier this month.

Prosecutors had argued the men were still a flight risk and produced a government order demanding they be kept in detention, blocking a magistrate's order they be released.

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 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.

What might happen next to the two journalists

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