24 February 1999


Court rules for journalists to seek medical treatment, state appeals

Incident details

Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto


legal action

(MISA/IFEX) - A magistrates court in Zimbabwe has granted an application
to alter the bail conditions of two tortured "Standard" newspaper
journalists, Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto, allowing them to leave
Zimbabwe for medical treatment in the United Kingdom.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 12 February, 11 February, 10 February, 9
February, 3 February, 29 January, 27 January, 25 January, 22 January, 21
January, 18 January, 15 January and 13 January 1999**

The order was made on the second day of a remand hearing for the two
journalists charged under that country's Law and Order Maintenance
Act.They were arrested for publishing stories alleging that twenty three
Zimbabwean soldiers may have been detained for attempting to take over
President Robert Mugabe's government.

In an earlier appearance on 22 February 1999, the journalists' lawyer,
Eric Matinenga, asked the magistrate court to alter bail conditions for
Choto and Chavunduka so that they could travel to the United Kingdom to
receive medical treatment.

Choto and Chavunduka both sustained serious injuries as a result of
torture suffered at the hands of military police during their illegal
detention that lasted three and ten days, respectively.

The prosecutor for the State, Morgan Nemadire, countered the
application, claiming it was baseless and unfounded, as the doctor's
report confirming their torture was inconclusive. He said also that he
feared the two journalists would flee.

In making the ruling on 23 February, the magistrate said he "did not see
any reason why the two journalists should not temporarily leave the
country for medical treatment." He ordered the State to hand over Choto
and Chavunduka's travel documents so that they could receive medical
treatment before commencement of their trial scheduled on 25 and 26

The state has appealed this ruling and a separate hearing for the appeal
has been set for 2 March. Meanwhile, both journalists have resumed work
at "The Standard".

Background Information

Chavunduka and Choto were held over a story in their paper on 10 January
alleging a coup plot in Zimbabwe. The government says there was no such
plot and has charged them with publishing a false story likely to cause
alarm and despondency. Chavunduka was arrested by the military on 12
January, and Choto was arrested by police on 19 January, and then handed
over to the military for interrogation. They were released on bail of
Zim$10,000 (approx. US$258) on 21 January, and immediately went public
with claims of torture during their detention.

The medical report following the examination of the two confirmed beyond
doubt that they had been tortured. Both journalists were forced to role
naked on grass and tarmac. They were repeatedly physically assaulted on
the head and in the face using fists and claps as well as booted feet.
At one time, the report said, Choto's head was butted against the wall.
Both journalists were electrocuted, with Choto repeatedly electrocuted
on the genitals. Both journalists were also assaulted on both feet with
wooden blocks, and on their buttocks with planks. The Defence Minister
has continually denied the torture claims by the two journalists,
branding them lies.

Both men have been charged under the Law and Order Maintenance Act of
1960 for publishing false reports that were "likely to cause alarm, fear
or despondency to the public, or section thereof." The offence carries
with it a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

On 22 January, the day after their release, police arrested the managing
director of "The Standard", Clive Wilson, and held him in jail for three
nights. Wilson was released unconditionally on 23 January and was not
charged. He said he was interrogated for three and half hours concerning
the sources of the contentious story which appeared in "The Standard",
but that he was not tortured in any way.

Meanwhile, "The Standard" newspaper said it was working to press charges
of contempt of court against several government officials, including
Defence Minister Moven Mahachi and his permanent secretary, Job Whabira,
for defying three High Court orders to free Chavunduka from illegal
detention by military police.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • calling for Zimbabwean authorities to respect their citizens' right
    to freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • strongly protesting the use of torture by military interrogators
  • calling for an end to the harassment of media workers in Zimbabwe
  • calling for an immediate inquiry into the allegations of torture
    made by the two journalists and for those responsible to be brought to
  • calling for the dropping of charges against the two journalists
  • pointing out that the charges against the two journalists are 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 signatory

    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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