21 January 1999


Detained journalists appear in court

Incident details

Mark Chavunduka,Roy Choto


legal action

(MISA/IFEX) - On 21 January 1999, detained journalists Mark Chavunduka and
Roy Choto appeared in the Harare High Court for the first time since their
arrest. Chavunduka, the editor of the "Standard" newspaper, was arrested by
the military on 12 January following the publication of a story reporting
on an alleged coup plot against the government of President Robert Mugabe.
Choto, the author of the story, was arrested on 19 January after being in
hiding for several days.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 21 January, 18 January, 15 January and 13 January
The two journalists have been charged under Section 50 (2) of the Law and
Order Maintenance Act of 1960. This section prohibits the publication of
false news and carries with it a maximum sentence of seven years. The Act is
currently under review and is due to be replaced by the Public Order and
Security Bill. However, numerous bureaucratic delays as well public
disapproval of certain sections of the Bill have delayed its approval and
implementation by parliament. The Bill effectively repeals Section 50 (2) of
the existing law.

At this stage it is not clear whether any bail application has been made on
behalf of Chavunduka and Choto, nor is it clear whether they are still in
the hands of the military or the police.

Background Information

Chavunduka was detained by the Zimbabwean military on 12 January, two days
after the "Standard" published the story alleging that about twenty three
soldiers had been detained for attempting to overthrow the Mugabe
government. During his incarceration, Chavunduka has been denied access to
legal representation, family and friends and no one knows his exact state of

On 14 January, the Zimbabwean High Court ordered the government to release
Chavunduka arguing that his detention was unlawful. The government
(military) however refused to abide by the court order saying civilian
courts have no jurisdiction over military camps where Chavunduka was being
held. A second order was issued by the High Court, demanding that the
Minister of Defence produce Chavunduka before 22:00 hours (local time) on 18
January. Again the military defied this and instead pretended it would be
handing Chavunduka over to the police to be charged under a civil process.

Choto was arrested on 19 January after police shrewdly persuaded the
newspaper's lawyers to convince Choto to come out of hiding. The lawyers
were led to believe that both journalists would be charged under the
(civilian) Law and Order Act, that they would have access to their lawyers
and families and that they would be able to apply for bail.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • calling for the immediate release of the journalists
  • noting the excessive period of detention without being charged and
    having access to lawyers, doctors, or family
  • pointing out that the arrest and detention of the two journalists is in
    violation of the right to freedom of expression as contained in Article 19
    of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of
    the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, of which Zimbabwe is a

    Appeals To

    His Excellency President Robert Mugabe
    Office of the President
    Causeway, Harare
    Fax: +263 4 708 557

    Mr Moven Mahachi
    Zimbabwe Minister of Defence
    Fax: +263 4 796 762

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Media Institute of Southern Africa
    21 Johann Albrecht Street
    Private Bag 13386
    misaalerts (@) gmail.com
    Fax:+264 61 248016

    More on this case

    "Standard" journalists' trial date set 15 March 2000 Tortured journalists' trial deferred 7 January 2000 Court clears minister of contempt charges; spares newspaper costs 15 March 1999 Court rules for journalists to seek medical treatment, state appeals 24 February 1999 IFJ condemns Zimbabwe for arrests and torture 12 February 1999 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1999 Medical report details torture of two journalists 10 February 1999 Human Rights Watch protests new crackdown on Zimbabwe's independent media 10 February 1999 RSF protests deteriorating press freedom situation 9 February 1999 Three more journalists arrested 8 February 1999 ARTICLE 19 to support journalists' legal bid 3 February 1999 Newspaper director released unconditionally; government promises to crack down on bad press against military 27 January 1999 Police blockade peaceful protest 27 January 1999 Newspaper's managing editor appears in court 27 January 1999 NDIMA protests detention of journalist 25 January 1999 Fears for newspaper director high 25 January 1999 Journalists sent for full medical check-up amid disclosure of torture ordeal; further attacks on journalists; protest held in Namibia 22 January 1999 Journalists released on bail 21 January 1999 Detained journalists appear in court 21 January 1999 MISA concerned for health and well-being of detained journalists 21 January 1999 Journalists tortured while in custody 21 January 1999 WAN protests continued illegal detention of journalist 21 January 1999 Zimbabwean defence ministry continues to detain journalist 18 January 1999 Journalist still detained 15 January 1999 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 WAN condemns Zimbabwe press crackdown 11 February 1998 Editor arrested 13 January 1999
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